An Interview with Lachlan Maclearn
A Major Contributor to the '60s Garage Band Scene in Connecticut
As a result of our interview with Tom Violante of the Shags in the November 2000 issue of The Lance Monthly, we received an email from Lachlan MacLearn, an established and accomplished musician who also had his start playing in various 1960's Connecticut garage bands. Never passing up an opportunity to learn more about local bands from the '60's, The Lance Monthly pursued an interview with Lachlan to which he enthusiastically agreed. Thanks to Lachlan for sharing his recollections. Lance Monthly (LM): How did you first get interested in music?
Lachlan MacLearn (LMac): I was born to a musical family. My Dad had been a jazz drummer in college, and my mom's mother was a concert pianist. My mom directed the Women's Choir at Middlebury College back in the early '40s. The family used to Christmas carol for friends in three and four-part harmony. To this day I can sing tenor harmonies to most of the best known Christmas carols. I was singing in church choir by the time I was seven, and singing my first solos a year later. I began playing guitar in '63. At that time I had a cousin my age who was already playing. He taught me a few chords and I was immediately hooked. My older brother brought me home an old Kay archtop guitar, from college. That was my first instrument.
[Lance Monthly] Your first band was the Indras. Whose idea was it to form a band?
[Lachlan Maclearn] I think the original impetus was mine, but it was also a collective effort just waiting to happen.
[Lance Monthly] Who were the band members?
[Lachlan Maclearn] This band included Simon McGann (Drums), and Tom Prisloe (guitar, now a world-renown classical guitar builder, in Colorado - see www.classicalguitarbuilder.com This nascent effort primarily played early Beatles and Stones material, and I recall that our first 'pay-gig' was at St. George's Catholic Church, on the green, in Guilford. I recall we were paid $5 apiece.
[Lance Monthly] You've previously informed me that the band was named in '63 for a Hamburg club that hosted the early Beatles. Were you already that familiar with the Beatles in '63?
[Lachlan Maclearn] Actually, I said I began "playing in '63" - meaning I was learning to play my first guitar. While my pals were going off after school to play ball, or to goof off, I'd head straight home to play my instrument. Even at that age I was very motivated to do it. The Indras didn't form until the fall of '64 - seven or eight months after the Beatle's first Ed Sullivan performance.
[Lance Monthly] How long were the Indras together?
[Lachlan Maclearn] The Indras lineup lasted eight or ten months. . . enough time for us to put together enough material to play three sets (three hours with breaks).
[Lance Monthly] What prompted the band to dissolve so quickly?
[Lachlan Maclearn] All of us were getting flak from our folks, as our music focus began to intrude on things like homework and chores. I think The Indras finally hit a snag when two of us were in the dog-house at the same time. But before long, we had reformed. I had become friends with Bobby McDonald, who was a tried and true, dyed-in-the-wool rock 'n roll fanatic by the time he was 13. Bobby also had a decent voice, and I was getting tired of being the only one who could handle lead vocals. So we brought in Bobby McDonald, as lead singer, and became MacMeda Destruction Company.
[Lance Monthly] After MacMeda Destruction Company you joined Tantrum. How did your association with that band come about?
[Lachlan Maclearn] At a school dance, I was watching this new band who seemed to be pretty good instrumentally, but lacked strong, competent vocals. I had just learned the Rolling Stone's "Satisfaction," and could do a pretty fair likeness of Jagger's vocal. I happened to mention this to the lead guitarist, during a break, and the next thing I knew, they were asking me to get up on stage with them and do it . . . which I did. When the song ended, the band got a lot of applause, and that sealed my fate. I was in! After some back-and-forth over the name - at one of the early rehearsals - we renamed the combo The Tantrum.
[Lance Monthly] Please list the names of each member of The Tantrum, as well as the instruments each played.
[Lachlan Maclearn] The Tantrum consisted of: Tony Sidor (drums), Ralph Byoric (bass), Harry Griswold (lead vocal), Stephan Crum (lead guitar), and me on both rhythm and lead guitar.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically practice?
[Lachlan Maclearn] Tony was an only child, and his parents, who owned a brass foundry, liked to support his hobbies. They had the wherewithall and willingness to provide not only rehearsal space in their home, but also helped out with PA equipment, (provided) a Model T Ford for getting to and promoting gigs, and (provided) outfits for performing.
[Lance Monthly] What type of outfits did the band wear on stage?
[Lachlan Maclearn] Tony's mom made us outfits that featured string ties, bell-sleeved shirts, and patterned trousers. However the patterns of the trousers were individual to each of us, so it added a little extra edge. Because of those varied patterns, the outfits were purposely not exactly alike, but all of a theme.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically play?
[Lachlan Maclearn] The Tantrum played a 50/50 mix of schools and clubs. Places like the Camaro Club in Saybrook, the Red Garter (Meriden), and a bunch of other clubs in the New Haven area whose names I've long since forgotten. We played High School Dances in Branford, Northford, Clinton, Guilford, Middletown, Saybrook, East Haven, Madison, and probably a half dozen other towns.
[Lance Monthly] How popular locally did the Tantrum become?
[Lachlan Maclearn] At our peak, we had a following that ensured we could always expect a good turnout. I remember that we won a Battle of the Bands in North Haven, and ended up signing autographs for half an hour afterwards. That was pretty heady for a 16 yr old.
[Lance Monthly] How many Battle of the bands did the Tantrum compete in?
[Lachlan Maclearn] I recall playing in Battles in North Haven, Branford, and East Haven. We were regulars, as I've mentioned, at the Camaro Club in Saybrook. They had Battles every month or so. We probably competed in a dozen events, total. I recall that we won twice and placed second two or three times. We won some cash, and some additional gigs as a result, along with a modicum of local press coverage.
[Lance Monthly] Did the Tantrum ever record?
[Lachlan Maclearn] We never made it into a professionally equipped studio, but we had friends with decent reel-to-reel (analog) recorders who would come out and record us during gigs.
[Lance Monthly] Do any '60s Tantrum recordings exist?
[Lachlan Maclearn] I know that somewhere in an attic or basement, in a carton somewhere are probably a dozen or so reel-to-reel recordings, but I don't have any of them. And I wouldn't even know where to look.
[Lance Monthly] You've also previously informed me that you had written many original songs during your Tantrum days. Can you tell me anything about these songs?
[Lachlan Maclearn] I wrote a song shortly after buying my first Rickenbacker 12-string called "Not My World," which became a regular part of our repertoire. Another tune I wrote called "Running," won us another Battle of the Bands in Ansonia. Still a third piece entitled "Leave Him Alone" gained the attention of Myron Frame (Shags), and he asked if he could teach it to the band. I never heard them perform it, so I don't know how far it got, but in those days, the Shags were "Big Time" from our perspective, so I was pretty flattered that he expressed interest. At that point, I was probably 14, and Myron was 18 or 19.
[Lance Monthly] How would you describe the band's sound? What band's influenced you?
[Lachlan Maclearn] We were heavily influenced by the British sound, as most bands were at that time. So we listened to, and subsequently played, a lot of material by The Stones, Kinks, Beatles, Hollies, Yardbirds, Animals, and Spencer Davis. We also covered American groups like the Rascals, Outsiders, and Turtles. The Hollies were a favorite, because Harry, Steph, and I harmonized together very well. We always got big reactions to "Look Through Any Window," and "Bus Stop." I actually sang the high harmony to "Bus Stop" . . . Graham Nash's part. The bridge on that tune goes waaayyyyyyy up there, but at 16, I could do it without straining. As a humorous side note: A couple of years ago, I was trading some email with Graham, and mentioned that song and the old days of the Tantrum, noting that it would take a serious kick you-know-where to get me to sing that high now.
[Lance Monthly] Why did Tantrum break up?
[Lachlan Maclearn] Several things occurred. Tony and Steph had pretty definite ideas about the music they felt we should be doing. Ralph Byoric and Harry Griswold, who were from Branford, felt railroaded, and eventually resigned. At that time Tony's folks had intimated that they were willing to underwrite some recording time at Synchron, in Wallingford (the studio where Doc Cavalier was producing bands like Pulse). As soon as Harry and Ralph announced their intentions to quit, Tony's folks decided that we weren't ready to go into the studio.
[Lance Monthly] How did you wind up in Wad?
[Lachlan Maclearn] After The Tantrum disintegrated, I became aware of several younger musicians in my high school (Guilford Senior High) who expressed interest in jamming. One was Frank Kern, a talented only-child of post-war German immigrants, and Brooks Noble, a troubled, but very bright, talented, and funny kid. With Brooks and Frank, came Ralph Streeto, an up and coming drummer with a good solid style and sound.
[Lance Monthly] How would you describe Wad's sound?
[Lachlan Maclearn] (It was) more of a power-rock sound than Tantrum [was]. By this time ('68), I had begun listening closely to Cream, Jeff Beck, and Hendrix. Wad sought to replicate that sound and spirit. My lead guitar chops had grown quite a bit from the Tantrum days, so I was ready for the change. I was also intensely following several of the best local players - musicians like Peter Neri and Harvey Thurrott. To a degree, they were my compass, because they were accessible. The (Jeff) Becks and (Eric) Claptons weren't.
[Lance Monthly] Please detail the light shows that Wad used to utilize in their concerts.
[Lachlan Maclearn] San Francisco bands such as Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother were leading the way with "multi-media" shows before "multi-media" was even a concept. Their shows featured amazing layered effects on huge white backdrops, behind the band. Most of these early shows were very experimental by nature. This was virgin territory . . . no one had done it before.
I had come to know a kid in Guilford, named Fred Olsen, who wanted very much to be part of the music scene in any capacity possible. Fred and I had done a student-produced play together called "A Thousand Clowns" and had subsequently become friends. Fred, we quickly learned, was the most amazing "tech-roadie." If a cord shorted, or a speaker blew, or the power went out, Fred could usually fix it quickly. When Fred threw his energies into recreating psychedelic light shows, it was a "fait accompli that they would be exceptional, and they were! He started first with one, then two slide projectors, and began mixing vegetable oil with food coloring. The next thing I knew, San Francisco had come to Guilford. We played a high school dance in Guilford, in the fall of '69, that still stands out for me as one of the all-time coolest gigs I ever played. Fred had wired colored footlights to supplement his slide projectors, and built a switching system to control them in any combination he wanted. He added some bizarre slides to the oil/vegetable color effects, and it was truly amazing. That light show with the band wailing out a searing, Cream-esque version of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful." Amazing.
[Lance Monthly] After Wad you joined Five Star General and Yellowfield. What types of bands were those?
[Lachlan Maclearn] Both bands played a hodge-podge of material, due to the disparate tastes of the band members. My brother loved blues and gritty material, so we adopted some Paul Butterfield material, some Steve Miller, and songs by a quirky California band of the time called Spirit. I was distinctly trying to bring in a Jefferson Airplane harmony/vocals sound, and wrote some material for the band in that direction. I still somewhere have a recording of the material that Yellowfield recorded at Syncron.
[Lance Monthly] Please tell me about your career today. How often, and where, do you perform?
[Lachlan Maclearn] By 1981, I was tired of trying to carve out a living as a songwriter/performer without having to move to L.A., New York, Memphis or Nashville. I had already released a first album project ["The Putney Album" (vinyl)] in '76 to positive regional reviews, and some college airplay, but gained little professional leverage from the effort. I decided to obtain an undergraduate degree, and by '86, had graduated Middlebury College, Cum Laude, with a degree in English and another one in Communications. I decided to try my hand at technical writing, and found I was good at it, and could earn a good living. This allowed me to pursue music on my terms without having to rely on playing an endless stream of cover material in smoke-filled bars.
I released a second album ["Sahel" ( vinyl and cassette)] in '88, was playlisted by WIZN 106.7 FM in Burlington, Vermont, got a lot of good writeups in area papers, and did a lot of solo gigging in and around Vermont. Eventually, after the '91 recession, I moved to the Boston area, where tech writing work was more plentiful. I bought a house, built a studio and began my third full-length recording project, "Oblivion Ponies" in '97. Three years, three engineers, two studios, and a trip to Masterfonics, Nashville later, the project was released (April, 2000).
[Lance Monthly] What are your plans musically for 2001 and beyond?
[Lachlan Maclearn] My second and third recording projects ("Sahel" and "Oblivion Ponies") are parts 1 and 2, respectively of a trilogy called "The Heartscapes Trilogy." The third and final project of this trilogy is entitled "The Ballad of Kid Frog's Return." This trilogy is a retracing of my own life process, using the archetypal human path so well documented by William Campbell. The three segments of this process, according to Campbell, are "Separation," "Initiation," and "Return." I agree with much that Campbell says. At the moment, I'm gearing up to begin "Ballad . . ." I need to purchase a couple more pieces of recording gear first, and finish building my new studio at my home in southern New Hampshire.
I'm also in the process of putting together a new band, but finding the right players is no easy task. I'm currently working with a new bass player, so we'll see. The band will, ultimately, include four pieces: lead guitar, guitar/keyboard, bass, and drums. Once the band is in place, the approach will be moderately sophisticated (think Steely Dan/Paul Simon/Sting all rolled into one, with other elements as well). My hope is that the band will be a springboard for original material to complete and continue beyond the Trilogy into new and (for me) uncharted territory. I also want to keep involving high-level musical professionals, and building relationships upon those involvements. I want to work with the best. I've spent a lot of time communicating with David Crosby, over the last four years. He's been very supportive of my artistic endeavors. Jeff Pevar, his lead Guitarist, contributed to my latest CD. I'm trading a lot of email with Max Bennett . . . a legend, if you're not familiar with his artistic resume. Check out: www.maxbennett.com I'd like to enlist some of his talents on the next project. Gut instinct tells me we should all live with a certain feeling of wonder . . . and awe . . . at this crazy, mystical, magical life existence. Even when it hurts. Even when, for whatever reason, it all seems to be going wrong. Anything less is just that: "less."
[Lance Monthly] Best of luck, Lachlan, and thanks for the interview.
[Lachlan Maclearn] Thanks, Mike.