Up Close With Boomer Castleman
Noted Guitarist For The Lewis And Clarke Expedition / Inventor Of The Palm Pedal
Interviewer’s note: If there's one musician who wears many hats and wears them well, it's Boomer Castleman. Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1945, he was attracted to music at a young age. "I was six years old when I started singing," he says. "But it wasn't until a few years later that I decided music was something I wanted to do all the time. I was living in Dallas, Texas, then and got into an accident on June 16, 1958. I cut the tendons in my left arm and as therapy, the doctor suggested I play the ukulele. From there, I went on to play banjo, then the guitar. If it wasn't for my accident, I may have never picked up those instruments and pursued music. So I guess there was a silver lining in the cloud!"
The music scene was hot and heavy in Dallas during the late fifties and early sixties, and Boomer wasted not a moment joining in on the action. "There was a place in town there called The PM Club that everybody used to go to," he reflects. "I remember Ramblin' Jack Elliott coming through and showing me how to pick on the guitar, which was real exciting. And one of the best bands around then was The Marksmen that included Boz Scaggs and Steve Miller, who ended up moving to San Francisco where they became famous."
Leaving Texas, Boomer headed to Los Angeles where he attended Occidental College. "I was doing a duo thing with John Duetschendorf and we would always play a club called The Ledbetter," he begins. "Randy Sparks, who was with The New Christy Minstrels and ran the club, said to John one night that Duetschendorf didn't sound very good when it was announced over a microphone. He felt John's last name was too complicated and too hard to pronounce. So Randy changed his name to John Denver, and that's how that came about."
Boomer praises his late friend, whose untimely death was caused by a plane crash in 1997. "John was such a nice guy. He didn't change a bit over the years. His music was just like he was. Always uplifting and made to make you feel good." Boomer continues to share a story that's forever engrained in his memory. "John and I went to see The Rolling Stones in concert when they played Southern California. They were on a bill with The Byrds, and all these girls were screaming their heads off. John told me that someday he would be up there on stage like that, having girls scream at him, and I said, "Yeah, right, John. Pass the popcorn!" But several years later, it happened and John became one of the biggest selling artists around."
Another future star Boomer worked with and became close friends with at The Ledbetter in the early sixties was Mike Nesmith. "Randy Sparks had all these different bands that were like farm teams," he explains. "Mike Nesmith, who also came up from Texas like me, was in a band called The Survivors. So one day, Barry Friedman comes into the club looking for four zany guys a la The Beatles. Barry says a TV show is in the works; it will be a rock and roll show. Mike auditioned for a role in the show; he was chosen and that's when he left The Survivors for The Monkees. After Mike left The Survivors, Michael Martin Murphey, who I played with in The Lost River Trio, stepped in and took his place."
Boomer has nothing but fond memories of Mike Nesmith. "He didn't change at all once he started having hit records with The Monkees, and stayed the nice guy he always was. Mike actually enjoyed the attention fame brought him. One time, while I was still going to school, Mike drove up to the college in a limo and told me to hop right in. So I get into the limo and we go driving through Hollywood. Mike is sticking his head out of the window of the limo, whistling at all the girls walking the down the street and they freaked out when they saw who he was. He was wearing his trademark wool cap so they recognized right away it was Mike Nesmith of The Monkees!"
Don Kirshner, who was the executive of Screen Gems Music Publishing and responsible for assigning songwriters to feed The Monkees material, eventually roped Boomer and Michael Martin Murphey into his stable. One of the tunes they authored, the bopping country flavored, "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round?," was recorded by The Monkees and featured on their Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd. album. "I'm listed as co-writer on that song, but I really don't think I did much on it except throw a few licks in there and run and get coffee!,” chuckles Boomer.
From Boomer and Michael Martin Murphey's association with Don Kirshner arrived the birth of The Lewis and Clarke Expedition. Garbed in buckskin threads to match their name, the band was cemented by John London, Ken Bloom and John Honig. In 1967, they cut an album, simply titled The Lewis and Clarke Expedition for the Colgem’s label. The disc spawned a minor hit single in the form of "I Feel Good (I Feel Bad)," which flourished to the skies with heavenly harmonies, chiming guitar atomics, and a tremendously catchy refrain. Boomer refers to the music he created with The Lewis and Clarke Expedition as "frontier rock," and such an observation is right on the mark. A solid collection of songs, the album is advanced for its years, predating the country rock movement that caused a stir at the dawn of the seventies.
"We had a great time," Boomer says of his tenure with The Lewis and Clarke Expedition. "We played on TV shows, got written up in the magazines, and did some touring. Another one of our songs, ‘Chain Around The Flowers,’ got a little bit of airplay too. But we were never what you would call a big name group."
Also shining brightly on Boomer's resume is his invention of the palm pedal. "I've always been fascinated with the steel guitar," he confesses. "So I took a coat hanger, cut the metal off, put a B string on it and wrapped it around a tremolo bar. I met with a machinist, we devised the unit, and it sold extremely well." Designed over thirty years ago, the palm pedal remains a favorite of country and rock musicians far and wide."
Boomer departed Los Angeles in 1974 to settle in Nashville, Tennessee, where he still resides today. Come the spring of 1975, he was sitting pretty on the national top forty charts with a solo effort. An original composition, "Judy Mae," incorporated roots rock instincts with a healthy sampling of commercial pop sensibilities, resulting in the sort of tune ideal for radio. "That song was actually recorded in Torrance, California," informs Boomer. "And it was cheap to record. It cost me only two hundred and twenty-eight dollars to make the demo." Pressed on the Mum’s label, "Judy Mae" obviously didn't have the support of a major record company, nor was it surrounded by reams of press. "I promoted the song all on my own, right from the back of my car. It's hard to believe now, but back then, an artist could do that. They could go from radio station to radio station, record label to record label, with their record in their hand, asking people to give it a shot," says Boomer.
A couple of years later, in 1977 to be exact, Boomer netted yet another hit single as the producer behind Meri Wilson's novelty oriented "Telephone Man," which peaked at number eighteen on the charts. Peddling the track was not an easy task. "Someone at the Mercury label told me ‘Telephone Man’ was the worst record he ever heard, but that just spurred me to push the song and get it out there," Boomer remarks before adding, "Meri Wilson was such a wonderful person and I was very saddened by her death. A few years back, she got into a car accident. She was driving her Lexus, on her way to see her grandchildren, when her car crashed."
Boomer comments how fortunate he has been to work with only the most pleasant individuals. "I don't have any horror stories like some musicians do. I can honestly say I've never met any jerks in this business. Most of the deals I've made have been sealed with just a handshake. And I've enjoyed every situation I've been involved in. There's never been a gig I didn't like." A diversified musician, Boomer has had the opportunity to perform with a variety of different musicians. "I've played with everyone from Gerry Mulligan to George Jones and Tammy Wynette," he states. "And working with Earl Scruggs was a whole lot of fun. His wife, Louise, is one fine cook!"
Another particular highlight of Boomer's career occurred in December of 1999 when he performed at The White House. "Bill Clinton was president then, but I didn't meet him. I was in a band that was hired to play for the staff, which was just as much an honor," says Boomer.
Although the majority of Boomer's waking hours are spent doing session work, he asserts, "I'd rather play live than eat when I'm hungry!" He also drives the point home on how much he loves performing a broad spectrum of styles, from jazz to country to pop, but reveals he's really a "rockabilly rebel at heart."
Boomer currently fronts a rockabilly band, BoomeRang! that's rounded out by bassist David Baskind and his wife, Lois, on drums. Aside from drawing rave reviews for their live shows, the trio's debut recording, a three-track CD has hauled in waves of positive reactions. BoomeRang! will soon be inking a contract, probably with a label overseas, as a host of record companies have expressed interest in their music.
On top of keeping busy with BoomeRang!, Boomer is presently recording an album with Pat Boone for Oak Records, which is owned and operated by Ray Ruff. "I played on Pat Boone's show thirty-seven years ago when I was in The Lewis and Clarke Expedition," offers Boomer. "And he hasn't changed at all over the years. He must drink orange juice for breakfast every morning because he looks so young. Pat Boone is seventy years old now, but you would never know it! And he's a great guy to work with. He has this reputation of being a clean cut guy, but what a fabulous sense of humor he has." Also appearing on the disc is James Burton, whose pioneering riffs have provided Rick Nelson, The Shindogs, Elvis Presley and a flurry of other high-profile acts with the goods. "Country pop, kind of like "Somebody's Knockin'," that song Terri Gibbs had a hit with twenty or so years ago," is how Boomer describes Pat Boone's forthcoming album.
Boomer is also working with Hilary Goff, a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader. "She's the female Elvis," says Boomer. "She has an incredible voice, a great stage presence and again, here's another wonderful person to work with. She has no excess baggage and is really into the music. There's a lot of promise there and you'll all be hearing a lot about her. She definitely has star quality."
Being optimistic is important to Boomer, as he approaches each project with enthusiasm and an open mind. "This can be a rough business," he admits. "But I don't let people get me down. I don't let naysayers into my life and that's the advice I would give to young musicians who are just starting out. Follow your dreams and don't let anybody tell you that you can't do something. And if someone does treat you bad, work on their goodness because everybody does have good in them, and then in turn, they'll be good to you."
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