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An Interview with Chuck Warren of The Bards
Major Pacific Northwest Players During the '60s
By Mike Dugo, 60sGarageBands
(more articles from this author)
2002-06-07
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"We played there a few nights after the Beatles and used the VOX amps that they had used. It was sort of a 'religious' experience to plug my bass into an amp that Paul or John had plugged into a few days earlier."

[Interviewer's Note: Best known to garage bands collectors for "The Owl & the Pussycat," the Bards were much more than your typical Northwest bar band. Though they evolved from the same scene that spawned the Sonics, the Wailers, and Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Bards eventually hooked up with Curt Boetcher and Keith Olsen in Los Angeles. The resulting album has finally (only last month) been released by Gear Fab Records www.swiftsite.com/gearfab - We'd like to give special thanks to Chuck Warren for sharing his recollections of his days as a Bard with The Lance Monthly.]

[Lance Monthly] How did you first become interested in music?

[Chuck Warren] Moses Lake had a tremendous music program in the schools. I was playing violin in the orchestra until I broke my wrist in PE. I switched to the bass because I could no longer twist my wrist around to hold the violin correctly. Some of us would gather in the band room after school and play "big band" Benny Goodman type swing music and have a ball. A drummer named Ken McDonald suggested that we try playing for a dance and actually landed us a gig at an Elks club playing "Five Foot Two" for a very adult crowd. They loved us! I was playing the upright bass, Bob Hull was on piano and I don't really recall the exact make up of that first "combo." We soon added an electric guitar (Ron Covey), and a singer (John Draney). John could do a pretty good Roy Orbison and "Pretty Woman" was an early addition to our repertoire. Ken was the leader of the group and named it the Continentals. His father owned the local Lincoln, Mercury car dealership but at the time I'm not sure [if] we were sharp enough to make a connection.

[Lance Monthly] How long was the nucleus of the band together as the Continentals?

[Chuck Warren] The school year of 1962-1963 was when the Continentals really came together. We had a gig on New Years Eve of 1962. Most of the group graduated in 1963 and when the fall came Ken left for college. He handed the "keys" of the group over to me. Bob Hull had left for college--he is now a world class architect in Miller/Hull Seattle--and had been replaced on the keyboards by Mike Balzotti. When Ken left we had several drummers--Stan Gibson and Nick Varney come to mind--but soon we added a singer/drummer named Bob Gallaway. Mardi Sheridan joined the group on guitar about the same time as Bob. The Continentals had become the "Fabulous Continentals" with Marsha Mae who was Ron Covey's sister and as Miss Moses Lake became Miss Washington. We also had a great sax player by the name of Jim Hay. We were traveling the state and enjoying some success on the dance circuit but the size of the group made traveling and dividing up the paycheck and the end of the gig a challenge.

So, in a rather bold move at the time, Mike, Mardig, Chuck, John and Bob decided to trim down to a leaner, meaner traveling group. When Marsha was asked to stay home, her brother was forced to quit, too, and their parents asked us to leave the basement practice room of their house and never return! Lucky for us Bob Gallaway had a garage!

[Lance Monthly] How did you settle on the name change to the Bards?

[Chuck Warren] We just weren't the "Fabulous Continentals" anymore so the five of us found a Thesaurus and started going through it for ideas for a new name. When we found that Bards were traveling musicians and English to boot, it seemed like the name to use! We conjured up the idea of dressing like old English minstrels and using poetry with music just like the bards of old.

[Lance Monthly] Could you please recap the nucleus of the Bards at this time?

[Chuck Warren] We hadn't been together very long when John and Bob both had to go to Spokane for Army physicals. They had been drafted! Lucky for us Bob didn't pass (we never knew why) but they took John. This was probably in 1964. The Bards were now Chuck Warren on bass, Mike Balzotti on keyboards, Mardi Sheridan on guitar and Bob Gallaway on drums. We could travel in one car, split the gig money four ways and the chemistry between the four was ON.

[Lance Monthly] What type of gigs did the band typically land at first? How long was it before you started sharing the stage with the Rascals, DC5, Animals, Turtles, etc?

[Chuck Warren] We really worked hard at trying to please the dance crowds on the circuit. Kids loved to dance in the '60s. Every Friday and Saturday night there was a big dance somewhere in an Armory or Gymnasium or "hall" of some type. Dancers liked "recognizable" music and of course the beat was important. It was fun to watch a crowd from the stage come alive, and stream on to the floor as soon as the first few chords of "Louie Louie" started pounding out. We were careful to add our original music in small doses and to put in the right amount of slow stuff for the lovers. We cared about our crowds and they responded by showing up in bigger and bigger numbers wherever we appeared. We were packing dance halls in the Northwest by 1966 and when we released a 45-rpm single in 1967 that became a hit, we were in real demand. 1967 and 1968 were probably the years that we were a big enough draw locally (Washington, Oregon, Idaho) that we would land gigs with groups that had national hits that were touring through our area.

One exciting tour was when we hooked up with Tommy Roe as his band in Spokane. He sent us the music ahead of time and we learned "Sweet Pea" and "Hooray For Hazel" and some other tunes that we thought were rather bubble gummy stuff but--wow--what an entertainer! His songs were number one in the nation at the time and as the headliner for a group of Dick Clark entertainers he was the closing act. Therefore we got to do our "hit" then back him up for his hits. He could work the young girls into such a frenzy that by the time he left the stage they were trying to climb on stage for any kind of souvenir they might grab on to. We wondered why he bolted off the stage at the end of the first show. Then we learned a lesson the hard way. Between us and the dressing room was [a] mob of wild worked up girls. We lost hair, buttons, and probably some dignity getting through that one. We had police protection the rest of the tour to Seattle, Portland, and Eugene!

[Lance Monthly] What were some of the many clubs and dance halls that the Bards appeared at?

[Chuck Warren] Early on we rented our own halls and probably hit every Grange and Armory and City Hall in Eastern Washington. As our popularity grew we began being hired by promoters who ran dances in roller rinks and larger venues. The Evergreen Ballroom near Olympia was a great place. We played with the Young Rascals there in 1966 when they had their first hit out. They were a group we really liked and sort of patterned ourselves after so that was fun. EJD Enterprises in Salem Oregon was a great place to work. Ed Dougherty ran huge events at the State Fair Grounds in Salem and other places in the Willamette Valley. Many of his shows were with touring groups like the Dave Clark Five. We found ourselves on the stages of all the coliseums and opera houses in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho at some time.

The Seattle Center was a trip to play as it had a revolving stage! We played there a few nights after the Beatles and used the VOX amps that they had used. It was sort of a "religious" experience to plug my bass into an amp that Paul or John had plugged into a few days earlier. Colleges were also great places to play. Some of the fraternity houses would hire us to play at their houses for their events and, boy, could they party!

[Lance Monthly] On your website www.bardsmusic.com , there is a newspaper snippet that labels the Bards as the "most popular group in the Northwest today." What did you attribute your popularity to?

[Chuck Warren] We honestly cared about the dance crowd. We worked very hard to please them and I think they appreciated the effort. We "strategized" all of those hours on the road about how to be a better band. All of those tired old sayings about how "success" isn't overnight or accidental are very true!

[Lance Monthly] The Bards recorded a handful of early singles on the Piccadilly label.

[Chuck Warren] Piccadilly was one of Jerry Dennon's labels. It was a "regional" label meaning that it was only distributed in the Northwest. He was sort of the Sun Records of the Northwest in that he would help anyone record [if] that [individual] could come up with the recording fees. He hit with "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen and was accessible to the groups who wanted to "have a hit." The sessions were all done in Kearny Barton's little studio under the monorail in Seattle. Kearny could do a lot with three tracks. We loved those sessions. We recorded a fast version of "Owl and the Pussycat" and a song called "Light of Love" that ended up being the "B" side of just about every single we put out. We also recorded a version of "My Generation" by the Who that was a pretty good cover and a little ahead of it's time in the NW. "Jabberwocky" was also one of the first recordings. Those four recordings were unreleased on Panorama, another Dennon label as: 1966 Panorama 46 The Owl and the Pussy Cat / Light of Love and 1967 Panorama 52 My Generation / Jabberwocky. They were released on Piccadilly as 1966 Piccadilly 224 The Owl and the Pussycat / Light of Love and 1967 Piccadilly 232 My Generation / Jabberwocky. Later in 1967 we recorded "Never Too Much Love" in the same studio, Audio Recording Inc., with Gil Bateman producing and Kearny at the tape deck. It was released as 1967 Piccadilly 242 "Never Too Much Love" / "Light of Love." When it took off in our region as a legitimate number one hit in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, the big labels started burning up the phone lines wanting it! We signed with Capitol mainly because our heroes, the Beatles were on Capitol and it was released a month later as Capitol 2041 "Never Too Much Love" / "The Jabberwocky."

[Lance Monthly] Whose idea was it to cover "Never Too Much Love"? Who came up with the arrangement?

[Chuck Warren] Mike and Mardi were the composers in the group and wrote all of the music. The four of us shared equally in the ideas department and when we found "Never Too Much Love" on the B-side of a Curtis Mayfield single we fell in "love." We felt the slow beautiful song was a little too tame so we added a "wake up call" at the beginning. The idea was that the world was getting more and more hectic and fast-paced and that we all needed to stop and smell the roses!

[Lance Monthly] How did the Bards hook up with Curt Boetcher and Keith Olsen?

[Chuck Warren] We got so busy after "Never Too Much Love," 20 to 25 one-nighters a month, that we found ourselves playing the same places for the third of fourth time with the same music and same show. We felt we would become stale if we didn't do something radical so we cancelled a month worth of gigs and rented an old movie theater in Moses Lake called the Ritz that had a stage. We went to work every day from daylight to dark writing all new music and developing an all new stage show. We recorded the music ourselves on a reel to reel and then took the tapes to Kearny Barton for "mastering."

We were so excited about our "creation" that we decided to drive to LA and see if we could knock on enough doors to interest someone in it. We had been up to see Mike Curb in a tall building on Sunset Strip and were heading down in the elevator when we "ran into" Curt. He must have guessed we were a band but being from Eastern Washington our "look" intrigued him. When we said we were from Moses Lake he laughed. He was one of those people that you didn't have to get to know. You just knew him right away! He took us up to Gary Usher's house and we listened to the tapes we had on the biggest "stereo" I had ever seen. Fairly soon we were signed to Together Records. That was the label Curt and Gary and Keith Olsen had recently formed.

[Lance Monthly] You released a couple of album tracks as a single during this time ("Oobleck"/ "Moses")? Was the 45 successful at all?

[Chuck Warren] Since we had been signed to Dennon and Capitol as The Bards, and since Curt loved the name Moses Lake, we were going to release the music under the group name of Moses Lake. We spent what seems like many months recording the "Moses Lake Recordings." The CD that we are releasing now is that music. Now we are calling it "The Bards The Moses Lake Recordings." "Oobleck" and "Moses" are two of the tracks and they were released as a stereo 45-rpm single in 1969. About the time the 45 was released, the record company disbanded! Our LP was never fully mixed as far as we know and I'm not sure if the single was ever fully distributed or promoted. I'm not aware that it ever received much airplay or sold any copies to speak of.

[Lance Monthly] What about the "First American" album?

[Chuck Warren] The "First American" album is actually all of our Piccadilly recordings plus a couple that we're not even sure we recorded [were] put together as an LP. We had gone our separate ways toward the end of 1969 and were not even aware that the "First American" LP had been released in 1980. The one time we all got back together in 1987 we posed for a kind of "spoof" picture with the album cover. It sort of surprised us to see "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" on our album but perhaps Bob recorded it after we split up. Anyway, while most of our early music is represented on the LP, we don't really feel that it is representative of our true "Bard" creativity. We had no input as to artwork graphically or musically and consider that album as more of an attempt by others to capitalize on our work than something we are proud of as "ours." "The Moses Lake Recordings," on the other hand, are truly our work. We will claim the CD to be released as real "Bard" music.

[Lance Monthly] What about unreleased tracks? Are there any early, pre "Moses Lake" cuts in the can somewhere?

[Chuck Warren] I'm pretty sure that all the tracks we did for Dennon have been released at one time or another. The CD that we are about to release had a track on the original master that we decided not to include on the CD as it just didn't seem to fit in terms of quality or feel. It is a song called "Take It." We also recorded a song called "She Never Says Goodbye" that I have on an acetate but for some reason was never finished or "pressed." An interesting tape that we may do something with someday is the original "garage tapes" of the "Creation" that we took to Los Angeles and showed to Curt Boettcher and Gary Usher. Those tapes got us signed to Together Records and resulted in the CD that is being released now. The original garage tape has three other songs that were not produced in LA. Those songs are "Brown Bowl," "Move On," and "Cry time" in addition to "She Never Says Goodbye."

[Lance Monthly] In regards to the new CD, how did you become associated with Gear Fab?

[Chuck Warren] I believe Mike was searching around the Internet on Google and ran into the Gear Fab web site. He contacted Mardi and they had started the ball rolling with Roger (Maglio) at Gear Fab when they both called me at work on a conference call to say that after thirty-three years we were finally going to release our work! It has been an incredible experience to re-live and re-create and in a way pick up where we left off in 1969! The memory tests are interesting. As a group we have been able to put together most of the details but it's amazing how difficult it is to recall some of one's past. Mardi did a fantastic job of getting the CD master ready and Mike has put together a beautiful web site that will continue to evolve. We'll never know what might have happened had the LP been released in 1969 but we'll soon know how it plays in 2002!

[Lance Monthly] Well, how would you best describe the band's sound? Aside from the Rascals, did any other bands influence you?

[Chuck Warren] The Beatles, of course, were influencing the world at the time and we identified closely with them. Their musicianship and creativity was inspirational as was their somewhat "positive" outlook on life compared to some other elements of pop music that explored the darker side of things. We purposely tried not to be too "Seattle" as we felt that many of the groups over there sounded a lot alike. The Rascals had an influence but it's fair to say that we truly loved all types of music and groups. What was not to like about music in the '60s? I have never been able to "hear" whom we sounded like. We didn't want to copy anyone but I'm sure listeners can pick up many "influences" we absorbed along the way.

[Lance Monthly] What were some of the other local bands that the Bards frequently played with?

[Chuck Warren] One of the few regrets I have about the sixties is that we probably got to see and hear fewer bands than the average fan. We were working virtually every night on the road and never got to go to dances or concerts. Sounds strange but unless we were on the same show with someone, we very seldom got to see or hear them. There were virtually no bands in Eastern Washington that we played with and while Don and the Goodtimes, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Sonics and The Wailers were our contemporaries on the dance circuit we really didn't spend a lot of time with them. One of our favorite groups was Merrily and the Turnabouts. We had some good times with them and Merrily is still a friend to the group.

[Lance Monthly] How far, then, was the Bards' touring territory? Did you travel outside the Pacific Northwest at all?

[Chuck Warren] In 1967, 1968 and 1969 we drove our "Bardmobiles" over 100,000 miles per year and virtually all of those miles were in the Northwestern Part of the United States. Washington, Oregon, and Idaho were Bard states. Parts of Montana, British Columbia and Northern California were part of the circuit also. We traveled to LA many times for recordings with Capitol and later for Together [records]. Several times we made the 24-hour drive but most of the time the Boeing 707 was the vehicle of choice. In 1969, while we were recording for Together, we would come back to the Northwest for Friday and Saturday night gigs and then fly back on Sunday for another week of studio time! I've lost track of how many times we did that! Here's an interesting observation after being in LA for a week: When you would step off the plane in Seattle or Spokane or Portland, it would seem like you had just "windexed" your eyes. Everything was so sparkly and clean and you could actually see the sun and the distant mountains. I really fell in love with the Northwest during that year.

[Lance Monthly] What TV appearances did the band make?

[Chuck Warren] We did several "telethon" fund raising type shows in Seattle similar to the Jerry Lewis telethons. I don't recall what the charities were but we were helping to raise money for some worthy causes. As we watched other groups "lip synch" their records we thought it looked phony so when our time came we all traded instruments. I laid my bass on the organ and played both of them at the same time. In general, we were saying, "Hey! It's the same music. We just don't want you to think we're putting you on by faking it." Anyway, I guess some of the producers of the show felt that we had been a bit disrespectful so it probably didn't help our TV careers. We really had fun on a kids show called JP Patches. JP was a clown and he had developed quite a viewing audience by putting on the hot local bands so we got our turn and it was fun. I recall watching the show a few times but I don't think VCRs had been invented yet or at least weren't very common so we don't have a tape. I would love to see that again. That's about the extent of our very, very short TV career.

[Lance Monthly] Why did the Bards eventually break up?

[Chuck Warren] I'm sure each of us had [his own] individual reason but I think some of the reasons common to all of us had to do with families, burnout, a changing music scene and a growing difference of opinion about the direction the group as a whole was heading. I personally had a new son and a six year old daughter and being on the road 25 nights a month was not allowing me to see my family as much as I wanted to. We had been pretty much 24/7 for three or four years pursuing our dreams and when the Together Records deal fell through, I think it hit me that I may not have the energy to go through all of that again. Another big factor for me was that the rock'n'roll crowd was turning twenty-one and bars were hiring rock bands to bring in the crowds. Our booking agent was slowly adding bars to our list of jobs and the fun of one-night dances seemed to be disappearing. When we got a notice to play in Redding, California for five nights in a bar, I just couldn't do it anymore. I drove home and told my wife I had quit the band. Mike and Mardi had left a few months earlier. They really loved the recording business and wanted to return to LA to continue with the studios. They had the musical talent to do it but Bob and I had always been using the group as a way to make a living, so we had decided to stay on the road a bit longer. Without Mike and Mardi the magic was gone for me so when you put it all together it was time to do something else. We parted as friends and comrades that had shared some remarkable experiences.

[Lance Monthly] Did you join or form any bands after the Bards?

[Chuck Warren] I played briefly with a group in Ellensburg to fill in for Keith Wolford who took my place in the Bards. I had a ball just playing bass for a change and not having to worry about promoters, booking agents, unions, traveling, etc. Wow! Playing music for a bunch of college students again was a blast! Bob continued with the band as the "Bards" for a year or two and released several singles including "Walla Walla" / "Day By Day" and "I Want You" / "Freedom Catcher." Mike and Mardi teamed with some other very talented musicians and continued to pursue the dream for a while longer in LA. Eventually Mike and Michael Langdon formed a duo and worked the local Seattle clubs at night while finishing college during the day. Mike still creates some amazing music. A sample is on our website. Mardi has also continued to stay close to the music business working with radio, movies, and mentoring musical groups.

[Lance Monthly] How about you? Do you perform at all today? If so, where and how frequently?

[Chuck Warren] Bob Gallaway died in 1994 so there will never be a true Bard group again. I pretty much turned my bass over to my son who is actually a much better player than I ever was. I'm guessing Mike and Mardi could probably still play some mean licks!

To order the Bards' Moses Lakes CD, visit either Gear Fab at www.swiftsite.com/gearfab , or the band's new site at www.bardsmusic.com.


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