Saturday, September 12, 2009

Steamin' ! The Second LP !

Rastus had been playing during live performances most of the songs on the Steamin' album long before they recorded the LP at Paragon Studios in Chicago in 1971. While the album was being recorded in Chicago, I was doing another Capitol project in Detroit. Why was I not in Chicago with Rastus? The band had decided they no longer needed my influence and guidance. They wanted to produce themselves. Such is generally the way. No band realizes that it takes a producer (an outside influence) plus the band to make quality product. The band is just too close to the music to see where improvements can be made or new ideas implemented. The producer alone should not be in charge of the overall product as the producer can also be blind to the inherent musicality that only the band can see. It takes two to tango.

To make a long story short....I was cut out of the band a couple of months prior to their recording their second LP. Of course, I was heart-broken. This was a band to which I had given birth, cash and support for two years. Traveled with and shared the ups and downs of the road. Good gigs....bad gigs and many where the money was short. It seemed with Rastus, the money was always short. There were so many players and support staff to feed. Angelo Crimi did an amazing job at taking care of all of us during that time. "Here's your deuce!", a term I'll never forget.

When I was cut out, naturally I was very upset but one must continue with life on life's terms so I immediately went back into the studios and commenced working.

I had been back in Detroit for a couple of months when I received a call from Angelo asking would I please come to Chicago to re-mix the songs they had just recorded. I thought about that for a couple of days and decided to go to Chicago to listen to the product. I would not let anger get the best of me. I still think I made the right decision. Paragon was small but well equipped so I commenced mixing and editing. The basic tracks were recorded well by the engineer from Paragon (Greg Dixon) and I had fun setting up the tunes I had heard so many times on the road. Plus, several of the songs I had written myself or with the help of Bobby Jameson and various members of the band so I knew those cold. I looked at it as protecting myself and the band. By the way....I received no mention in the credits when the album was released but by then, I was ready for anything.

It wasn't until recently that I found that, once again, Rastus music was bought only as a loss; a write-off. How could this be? Why would anyone in their right mind buy this incredible group of talented musicians only to shelve them and deliberately lose money? That's the way business works thanks to the IRS. You've got to lose money in order to keep some of what you made.

The cuts on this LP were paid for in heartache and tears; anger and frustration. Once again, the music says it all. From the astounding "Lucy Bluebird" to the thought-provoking song, "What Will It Take," Rastus took the worst of situations and constructed incredible music. Music that continues to live on in the minds and hearts of the people who saw them live.

If you would like to purchase any of the original mixes from the Steamin' LP, please go to the Rastus sales (Downloads) page. The cuts are being put up as we speak so it may be a couple of days until the page is complete. Thanks for your patience.

Rastus Lives!
John Rhys

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Where Is John Taylor?

Photo of: John Taylor
Photo by: Rich Voorhees

Sometime....just before I met the group of gentlemen soon to be known as Rastus, a couple of the band members were walking somewhere in downtown Cleveland when they saw a man sleeping on a park bench. With him, he had a trombone case and a bowling ball. That was all he had to his name.

He said he was from Minnesota and that he had, at one time, owned a music store but it had failed. He told the boys from soon to be Rastus that he was a trained musician and asked if there was anything they could do to help his position.

They told him they were currently in a band with a couple of sax players and that they would take him and introduce him to the other members.

Upon meeting with the other members of the band, John Taylor was quickly taken into what would soon become Rastus.

I met John Taylor soon after he joined the group. He was truly a strange guy but he played his ass off. His chops were tremendous and he added that brass quality that soon became an integral part of the Rastus sound.

He endeared himself to me by playing exactly what I asked. If he had a better choice of notes, he would play that for me. I loved him. He was affable and intelligent and loved to laugh.

Here's a funny story....

When we finally got into the studio to do our first record for GRT, Taylor (as we all called him), played a solo on my song "Warm" that brought tears to my eyes. It was a thing of sheer beauty. The barest minimum of notes. I will never forget that moment.

However; Taylor said he could play that exact solo every time. I told him if he ever duplicated that solo again I would give him my 24 carat gold, cloisonne' lighter. He had always admired that lighter.

John Taylor never received the lighter. He came close a couple of times but I remembered the solo from the record note for note and he never quite duplicated the solo. I wish I could have given it to him. I almost did once but one of the sax players....Mike Geraci I think, told me he didn't think it was exact. John Taylor's playing the solo exactly had become a big thing with the band and they all wanted to see me give him that lighter. It never happened.

We know where Smokey and Vic have gone but we don't know to where the infamous Mr. John Taylor has disappeared. If anyone has any idea as to his whereabouts, please let us know or tell John that it's important that he contact me. We all miss him and wish him well.

I can be reached

Keep the faith....
John Rhys

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Have I Lost My Mind?

Photo of: Rhys on I-94
Photo by: Mike Schneidler

I am sitting here listening to “Lucy Bluebird” and drifting back in time. Remembering one the greatest assemblage of musicians with which I ever had the pleasure of working. Thinking about each individual now brings a smile to my face. I think about our first meeting and what a fool I made of myself. I’ll tell you about that sometime.

There is tragedy here and I know it. The reality is this….in the entertainment business, nothing is fair. A friend of mine once said, “Who says you get what you deserve.” If any group of human beings ever deserved to be able to make a living doing what they loved best, these gentlemen did. Hard as they tried they were continually broke, borrowing from loan-sharks to pay their bills. This was just the way it was in those days for musicians trying to steer the course to stardom. Some got lucky and the others….well….the others didn’t. But it usually wasn’t for a lack of trying.

I promoted records for a long time during the early part of my career and I listened to a lot of records made by some tremendously talented people and it always amazed me how many people it took to make any piece of product sell. The big record companies poured untold wealth behind some folks that didn’t make the grade but they also poured car loads of money on some that did. To the record companies it was basically a crap shoot. The ones that made it paid for those that didn’t. It was that simple. Just business. I would never treat the business and those in it that way. Never could.

When I worked for Warner Brothers Records in Detroit, sometime during the month, I would receive an envelope with three sheets of paper enclosed. They called them “work lists” but they were really suggestions that if followed, would work best financially for the company. For instance….The “A” List was the major artists releases. The performers into whom they were dropping the most cash. Then the “B” List was people on the way up or the way down. Get them airplay if you could. Now….the most interesting list of all….the “C” List. The “C” List was made up of newly signed artists. It was fairly simple to get a Frank Sinatra record played from the “A“ List. Not so easy getting a group called Gary Lewis and The Playboys played from the “C“ List. It was fun to try.

Rastus should have been on a “C” List somewhere. Perhaps they were. I know that “Warm” was high on a chart on a station in New Orleans. What happened? These are things I am attempting to investigate. I was with them from the beginning and I don’t know the full story. I’m not sure any one person does. I tell you that I will bring this band to the attention of everyone I can. I will repay all those good people who have brought so much joy to my life. Those here and those who have gone before. Not only the musicians from Rastus but all their friends and family who treated me so well during those magical days when we all contributed to the music we loved and a band called ….Rastus.

God Bless You All....
John Rhys

Friday, April 17, 2009

Columbia Records Denies Tower Of Power Challenge!

It is now early 1971 and the first Rastus LP has just been released. The band, Jim Cantale and I are locked in the farmhouse in Chardon, Ohio. The weather is frightful. We have sustained near blizzard conditions for nearly two weeks. It's bloody cold! Rehearsal goes on....and on....and on. Funds get tighter and tighter all the time. "Where's my deuce?"

(The above paragraph is from Rhys' Diary.)

The radio is tuned to one of the local rock stations in Cleveland so that we can hear the first time a Rastus record is performed on the air. When we do, we are thoroughly disappointed. The output level is significantly lower than the previous record played and also lower than the record following. We, as yet, have not received test pressings as the company had said we would. They have already released the record without our final approval.

We finally received test pressings in the form of actual releases with jackets and everything. It was then that I realized why the level discrepancy was so drastic. The fools at GRT had decided to put everything we gave them on the disc. The total time on the studio sides were approximately 20 minutes per side. Normal length of an LP at the time was 15/16 minutes for delivery at maximum volume. 19/20 minutes per side meant the groove depth had to be much more shallow, thus minimizing the level output when played. The company had sacrificed output level for more product delivery. What did they care. They had no intention of promoting Rastus. Rastus was simply a write-off for the holding company. In essence....Rastus records sounded weak in comparison to the records delivered at full volume. If you want, add up the total time on any of the first LPs sides. You will see for yourself.

Photo of: Smokey Smelko recording first LP.
Photo by: Mike Schneidler

About a week later, Smokey came in with a copy of Billboard Magazine. We all plowed through the Billboard to see if there were any listings anywhere. When we came to the back cover there was an ad placed by Columbia Records stating that Columbia and a band called Tower Of Power challenged any group to perform after said band. Upon consulting with the band and their manager, Angelo Crimi, I called a friend at Columbia Records and told him we would be anywhere at any time to follow Tower Of Power. He asked that we send our LP so they could hear it and see if the gig would be viable. We sent a copy to The Black Rock (the CBS building in Manhattan) overnight. About a week later I received a call from my friend at Columbia Records stating that they had made a mistake in releasing that advertisement and that they were sorry we had gone to so much trouble.

Photo of: Angelo Crimi, Rastus' Manager.
Photo by: Mike Schneidler

Now we all know Tower Of Power is one hell of a band but Rastus would have driven their raggedy-ass bus all the way across the country just to play with this other horn band. We later found that it was Columbia who refused to deliver on the ad after hearing Rastus' second record in the package. The live recording. Why should they promote a Tower Of Power competitor on another label?

We had never really intended releasing the live record until sometime later. However, GRT with their all knowing minds decided more was better and that is why the first Rastus LP release has two LPs instead of one. Naturally, there was more to "write-off".

Rastus was deadly live. No one who knew the band wanted to play after they had performed. It was hopeless and many a band fell into the trap of "headliner". Rastus didn't care either way. As long as they got to play. That was all they lived for at that time. When Rastus hit the stage....they killed!

It would have been a great concert had Rastus been allowed to perform with Tower Of Power.

John Rhys

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rastus....The First LP!

The First Rastus LP!

Fall of 1969

Rastus had been playing The Scene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for several months and had developed quite a following there. The folks from Milwaukee were mighty nice to us all and we felt we had found a home in that fine city.

Benedetta Balistrieri ran The Scene with an iron hand but she was very gracious to us and helped the band a great deal, always seeming to find a few dates when the band was hurting for work.

When it was decided we would record Rastus’ first record at a small R&D studio in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin; the boys in the band each had to figure some place to stay during the process. Some of them stayed with various friends and the others brought sleeping bags and stayed in the studio itself.

From left to right: Mugsy, Smokey, Vic, Barbara Vettle, Rhys, Cantale, unknown, Taylor

Photo by Michael Schneidler

Sonad Studios was housed in the basement of a small, L shaped mini-mall located directly in the center of Wauwatosa. Four streets ran into one junction in the tiny town and each had a stop sign to control traffic at the intersection. Directly across from the mall was an old fountain which spit water twenty-four hours a day.

The mall itself consisted of a Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop at the end closest to the fountain. Then there was an electrical repair shop adjoined by an empty Household Finance slot. On the corner of the mall was a Chinese restaurant where we all would eat breakfast when we could afford it. There was a small dress shop which was dying and on the end, another vacant slot. All in all, it seemed as if the mall was in it’s death throes.

Sonad Studios was designed by an old man named Curt Knoppel. Knoppel had hooked up with a great man named Bernard Barker who had developed an electrical circuit he called Sonad. Mr. Barker had, at one time, been a radar operator on a bomber during World War Two. He culled the ideas for the Sonad circuit from his knowledge of radar. Later we would find Knoppel to be a complete criminal. Nothing he had told us was the truth and all those lies would come back to seriously hurt us in the end.

Here’s how Sonad worked in a nutshell….One would take an audio signal (mono at that time) and enter it into the Sonad circuit. The Sonad circuit then split the signal into two equal parts (a piggyback). While one audio signal remained clean, the other could be manipulated in real time. One could adjust the Sonad signal in an infinite variety of ways. At the end of the process, you mixed the clean signal with the Sonadized signal. The end result was amazing! The sounds seemed to jump out at you through the speakers. As an engineer, I could see the true worth of the product and I got on board myself to help raise the money for Research and Development.

Our investors were local corporate men and women as well as elderly folks looking for a good investment. The money came in and the studio was completed and ready to make records. We nearly made it.

The studio consisted of four small rooms and a large control room. The control room was designed like a living room with several lounge chairs and a couch against the wall. The studio rooms themselves were small and compact. There was a guitar room which was about 8X10 feet; a piano room with an old upright grand, which was about 6X8; a horn room which also doubled as a vocal room (10X12) and a bass room (6X8) so we could all stay out of Don Nagy’s way.

We started by recording the band tracks for the individual songs. We used an 8 Track, 3M machine. That recorder was state-of-the-art at the time and I considered myself lucky to have it. The band tracks took about a week to record and the following week I had in mind overdubbing vocals, horn solos and other miscellaneous sounds. However, something was wrong. I couldn’t get the machine to sync correctly with the Fairchild console we were using. Then we found that the guy who wired the Fairchild board had done the job incorrectly and the board had to be re-wired which took almost a week. That meant the band had little to do during that time. Rastus and boredom were not a great combination to say the least.

One night about 3 in the morning we were hanging out in the control room when someone yelled down the stair well, “Check out the fountain in front! It’s foaming at the mouth!” We all ran upstairs with John Taylor conspicuously missing. To my horror, I saw the fountain gurgling up bubbles as fast as it spit water. The soap was already down to the intersection and had caused several late-night drivers to slide through the stop signs and into each other. There was one car lying on it’s side next to a pancake restaurant. This, of course, brought the police. All six of them.

The cops were already aware there were a group of hippies holed up in the strip mall and several nights after the fountain debacle, walked in through the back door of the studio. No one noticed them as we were in the middle of Mike Geraci’s horn solo intro for “I-75 Riff”. When Mike had finished we were all very excited as Mike had blown the perfect intro. I stopped the machine, turned around and then saw the police standing in the back of the darkened control room. The control room reeked of pot and everyone froze for a minute or so. Then, there was more tap-dancing than you would have seen in a Fred Astaire movie. I finally turned on the lights and welcomed the police to Sonad Studios. They asked what we were recording and I played them the rough version of “I-75 Riff” sans the vocals. They loved it! After that evening, the police laid off us a bit and never came in again….thank God.

It took us a total of one month to record the studio sides of the first Rastus LP and they are listed on the sales page in the order they appeared on the record.

Just to let you know….none of us have ever received as much as a statement from GRT Records, much less a check for royalties after the initial payment was made to the band to lease the master. There are publishers to which I have written who say they hold the copyrights to the original songs (many of which are mine) that have never returned to me in any respect. We will keep trying. It would be nice to get this all sorted out.

Within the next couple of weeks, I’ll put up the next part….The First Rastus LP….The Live Side!, with all the respective songs in order of appearance. Also, I will tell you the horror story that happened with the Sonad patent and the Sonad Studio….and me.

Rock On!

John Rhys

Click here to go to Rastus download page!

Monday, August 11, 2008

An Interview With Bobby Jameson And Jim Cantale!

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench; a long, plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.

There's also a negative side.

-Hunter S. Thompson-

I first met Bobby Jameson in the summer of 1964. My room mate at the time, Terry Knight, who was a DJ at CKLW in Windsor, Ontario invited me to a show on an island off the coast of Canada. There were several major acts as well as Bobby Jameson who was riding his ascending star with his hit, "I'm So Lonely."

When Terry introduced me to Bobby we talked briefly and I found him to be a charming and intelligent young man without an ounce of guile. In essence, he wasn't one of the jive talkers with whom I was used to meeting in the record business. I watched him perform and told Terry I thought he (Bobby) was headed straight for stardom.

The second time I ran into Bobby was in the offices of GRT Records and to be honest, I didn't recognize him as the same, gentle young man I had met six years earlier. To put it mildly, he was angry. I was angry too as GRT owed both of us a considerable amount and didn't want to pay.

He was stand-offish at first but soon we became reacquainted and I then heard the horror stories that had happened to him since we had last seen each other. Since many of the same instances had happened to me during that time, I believed every word. However, I was much more fortunate than he. I had one record company pay me accurately.... Impact Records of Detroit, Michigan whose owner, Harry Balk, is one of the most gifted and honorable men I ever had the pleasure of doing business with in the music industry.

Bobby Jameson is also one of the most brutally honest people I have had the good fortune to confront. The world would be a better place if everyone adhered to such a straightforward approach. Many people in the record business do not agree with such honesty. They just can't play the game that way.

Bobby was with me as I mixed the first Rastus LP at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys. When I offered him the opportunity to go to Ohio and work with Rastus writing songs, he jumped at the opportunity.

This is how Bobby Jameson came into our fold....the Rastus group.... and the stories that stem from this association are many. Here....directly from Bobby Jameson's lips, are true stories of the music business and some inside stories about of the best bands you never heard.

This audio clip is approximately fifty-two minutes long. It has not been altered or edited and there is some explicit language. It was recorded at Bobby's home in San Luis Obispo on August 9th in the afternoon. The speakers are myself, Bobby Jameson and Jim Cantale.

John Rhys/

Click here to listen to....An Interview With Bobby Jameson And Jim Cantale!

Click here to go to Bobby Jameson's blog.

Click here to go to Bobby Jameson's My Space page.

Click here to go to Bobby Jameson's YouTube page.

Click here to go to Jim Cantale's web site.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Rastus....The Ann Arbor Sessions!

It was early in the morning when we (Rastus) arrived at the SRC Studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The band had come from Cleveland, Ohio in several different cars with Jim Cantale driving the van with most of the equipment. I drove in from Detroit.

The summer of 1968 proved to be a scorcher as the band selected the various rooms which would be their home for the next ten days.

Angelo Crimi and Mike Geraci selected the drum room as it was the only room in the house which had air-conditioning. The rest of the band found rooms upstairs and began to make themselves comfortable.

"I'm going to Piggly Wiggly."

As this process was occurring, Bocky decided that it was time to get some groceries from across the street at the supermarket. This was a venture which I will not describe due to it's heinous nature but I will say that this was one of the most outrageous acts I have ever witnessed. Unfortunately I saw what poverty will reap in situations such as these. At the time this act was quite humorous. Bocky had a gift....a gift which would eventually cause him to be dismissed from the band.

Rastus was, even in the early stages, running on empty and had to rely on chicanery just to survive. All the members of Rastus were survivors and had resigned themselves to the fact that they would do anything to continue playing music together.

The tape starts rolling.

As we settled into the recording process, we established the living room as the horn room (Mike Geraci, Vic Walkuski and John Taylor and Don Nagy on trumpet) since it was the largest. Don Nagy (bass) was allocated a small room off the living room and Tony Corrao (guitar) was placed in an opposing room also off the living room. Smoky set up the drums in the "all black" drum room that was nearly sound-proof I mentioned earlier....air-conditioned. He would certainly need it for those ten days.

The only connections for the group were headphones and the talk-back system which I used to communicate with the band.

We ran through the songs for the first two days while, at the same time, getting levels set to the recorder which was a four-track Crown. We had very little EQ and for echo, a spring reverb unit which worked quite well. On the third day we began to record. The demos presented here are off the original 2 track mixes I made after we were finished recording, so the quality is superb.

On the fourth or fifth day of recording, I was over-dubbing Tony Corrao on guitar when I heard strange noises coming through Tony's mic. I stopped the tape and asked Tony what he was doing to make those "scratching" sounds. He answered saying he wasn't doing anything and that the noise was coming from the wall. We all went to look at the wall from where the noises were emitting. The noises were loud enough to be picked up by the mic some ten feet away. After careful examination, we discovered a mother Raccoon and five babies living in the wall of the old farmhouse. Tony was freaked! Being a city boy, he had never witnessed a live Raccoon before. We made sure we recorded in that room after the mother and babies had gone out for their meals. No sense in upsetting the family with a lot of loud music.

It was in this setting we recorded Rastus' first efforts. All these demos are now available for sale on the Rastus' Ann Arbor Sessions sales page. We will be posting much more material in the following weeks so stay tuned. Please let us know what you think of the site and give us suggestions on how we may improve.

This "is" the official Rastus site! Accept no substitutes.

Rastus....The Legend Lives!

John Rhys

Click here to listen to....Rastus....The Ann Arbor Sessions!

Click here to go to the Rastus download page!