Saturday, August 18, 2018

Webster's New Word-Columbia & RCA Singles

It is truly an unanticipated and welcomed surprise to encounter this digital-only release that is also the latest installment in the Columbia Singles series.  Even if the main motivation behind this series is probably a perfunctory mechanical exercise in copyright extension of recordings passing the half-century mark, listeners are able to reap the benefits of hearing left-field tracks once deeply buried in the studio vaults. Simply being able to hear the complete run of Webster’s New Word singles is beyond expectations.  Sure, some of these singles have trickled out of sunshine/soft/studio pop compilations and/or posted to Youtube.  Nevertheless, these singles sound slightly wonderfully askew, ambitious and vibrant as their transitional sound was forged in those revolutionary years of 65-67. Webster’s New Word emerged out of the U. of Notre Dame’s fledgling collegiate folk scene during the JFK sixties. Three of the members (Gus Duffy, Hilton Hill and KC Lynch) were previously in the Winds (aka the Four Winds). In 1965, Fantasy Records released their
single,"Radiation Baby" under the name "Winds of Notre Dame" that is highly sought and then protected in basement fallout shelters by ardent Doo Wop/Vocal Group Harmony aficionados.

As WNW, they brought in their vast experience as a choral folk outfit and placed it within a goodtime pop framework tinged with some early psychedelia studio arrangements and enhancements.  It is an ambitious amalgamation of sounds enhanced by being recorded at the top flight New York studios. 

Leading off this collection is "Hard Loving Loser" which comes complete with lyrics from Richard Fariña.   Attempting to get unhinged, it stills ends up being snagged by some sub-Dylan lyrics which trips them up between barbwire social criticism and a novel attempt of humor.   Still, the material might work better in the hands of the Fleshtones.  The flip,  "I Don’t Want to Be the One" is a fine and gentle folk rocker pinpointed by a jangling jazz guitar passage and lush harmonies vocals somewhere between the Association and the Byzantine Empire.

They bring their choral folk strengths to the fore on both sides of their second single. On "Pity the Woman," they convey their conviction that one must examine the orientation of their own heart before criticizing the sometimes heartbreaking state of the world.  The song's prominent tick-tock piano cadence could have even been an influence on the Lovin' Spoonful's “Six O’Clock.” The arrangement is busy and unorthodox, but they shine through with a driving beat, a coruscating chorus and overall earnestness. The song was written by Mark Barkan who wrote "She's a Fool" (Leslie Gore), "Pretty Flamingo" and even "The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana) that was monkeyed with by the Dickies.

"Take A Look" is a variation on the aforementioned theme that draws upon a large palette of sounds and multi-leveled harmonies which spring over the clutter in a single bound.  “Henry Thachet” is one of those sixties character sketches that is a not too subtle jab at the establishment, but typically sound dated today like “Lather” by Jefferson Airplane. Still, the underlying bongos do make things interesting on a musical level. The flipside “Sad to Say” is orchestrated flower pop along the lines of Spanky and Our Gang and has been included on a few sunshine/soft pop compilations.  Even if tacking "Babe" on the song title was two years too late, "You Still Thrill Me, Babe," could be considered as their finest moment. This is a fully formed song that reaches full flight with its tambourine, boundless bah bah bah's and a beautiful bridge. Place this one between "One Too Many Mornings" by the Beau Brummels, the early Turtles and the recordings the Association were making for Valiant.

"When you Grow Up" is mellow, moody and features a valley of cascading vocal harmonies while presciently anticipating the self-reflective singer/songwriter soft rock movement ("Traces," "Precious & Few," "Colour My World") which waltzed in around the start of '70s.  Their spirited and sweeping cover of  "Get Together" places an exclamation mark on this collection. While the song  may be old sixties warhorse, they give it a stripped down treatment that makes it even more fresh and heartfelt than the We Five’s version.   One can only wonder if an album was ever in the works. It has been estimated that over 200 singles were released each week during the mid-sixties.  It's illuminating to hear the bubbling under emerge as these sounds provide a more complete understanding and countervailing perspective on both the hits and misses of that era.  Thanks in part to copyright and the relative accessibility of digital, it is now possible for more listeners to hear Webster's New Word than ever before.

In a way, their trajectory is an encapsulation of a major part of the mid-sixties musical experience.  It was obviously an accelerated time when folk was in the transition of going electric and pop was at the cusp of psychedelic.  In addition, the group was part of the embryonic San Francisco scene (with Gus Duffy being the second drummer of Jefferson Airplane). They later went on to be at the epicenter of the New York scene which stretched from Greenwich Village to Sybil Burton's high society discotheque Arthur where icons like Warhol would make the scene.  In this fashion, 
Gus, KC and Jim's experiences and recollections provide insight into a previously unexplored layer of history, while expressing the rambling and serendipitous spirit of the times.

Interview with Gus Duffy, KC Lynch and Jim Mason 

Did you ever foresee this release?  Did you ever think this would happen?

(Gus) I am astonished by chain of events, especially considering it has been 50 years after the fact.
(Jim in jest) Now the money can start rolling in!

Who all comprised the band and what were their roles?

The lineup on these recordings is:
The late Buddy Hill (Hilton Gray Hill III)-from Warwick, Bermuda.-Former Soloist for Notre Dame Glee Club first vocal part (high voice)
KC Lynch-second or third vocal part, lead vocals (on occasion) for live performances (e.g., "High Flying Bird")
Jim Mason-lead singer, second vocal part, rhythm guitar, bass
Gus Duffy-fourth vocal part, 12 string guitar, bass, drums, percussion
Jon Talbot-Bass
Jerry Peloquin-drums (JP was the first Jefferson Airplane drummer, who Gus Duffy replaced briefly, prior to Skip Spence)
John Gilmore-shows up as lead guitar on "Henry Thachet" Bass player after Jon Talbot

If possible could you ID  the members in the photo employed for this release? 

(Gus) Sure. left to right,: KC Lynch (red-ish tie), head in hands is Jim Mason, Gus Duffy (perfect puddin' bowl mop top), then Buddy/Hilton  Hill (serene in sweater) and Jon Talbot (looking dour lower right).  No Peloquin...don’t recall why.  John Gilmore not in this picture either.

Gus, how did you meet Jim Mason, who co-wrote "I Dig Rock & Roll Music" and later went on Wings? (Not the world famous Paul McCartney Wings, but the American ones on ABC Dunhill Records).

Jim Mason on the right- with arms folded in the red striped shirt
Drummer Jerry Peloquin in hat
(Gus) We met Jim Mason in South Bend...he was a part of the Chicago folk scene and gigged in SB, we hit it off, and he replaced Mike Kealy, who had had enough of the road.

Tell us more about your bandmate KC Lynch? 

(Gus) KC Lynch is a multi-talented Notre Dame guy. who came from a prominent San Francisco family.   We spent a lot of time at his family's house when the band was based in San Francisco.  He  is a visual artist and 
writes and directs industry films for corporations

KC's diverse clients include the US Olympic Committee, The Pacific Maritime Association, Intel, Nike, Apple Computer, Sony America, Sony International, Ford Motor Company, Adidas International, Hitachi Kokusai Japan and the Government of France.

(Jim) KC had one of the most distinctive voices in the group.  When we were in SF, we auditioned for Sly Stone and Tom Donahue at Autumn Records.  I recall Sly arriving in style-donned all in purple and driving a purple Jaguar.

Speaking of artists, bass player Jonathan Talbot has gone on to some renown.

(Jim) I wish I could afford one of his collages.  When we met him in the Village, he was a one-man flamenco act going under the name of Juan Serrano.  Be sure to check out his work leading the New York Electric String Ensemble that I helped produce.  (This 1967 release on ESP-Disk includes liner notes by Gus Duffy.)

Being on Columbia, did Webster's New Word ever cross-paths with the Byrds? I know that Jim worked with Chris Hillman between the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Desert Rose Band. 

(Jim) We did not come in direct contact with the Byrds, but we did ride in their disheveled Lear jet after it brought them to New York from shows in the Midwest.  

The famous/infamous show at Fordham University where you outshined the Mamas and Papas has been previously documented in Matthew Greenwald's Go Where You Wanna Go book and  in my previous project on Notre Dame's Shaggs, what other bands did you share the stage with?

(KC) After being signed to Columbia and our showcase at Arthur, we were the house band on both weeknights and weekends at Cafe Wha?   I don’t think we played any of the songs that were released as singles.  Our signature closer was “High Flying Bird”. The program there was very flexible, with guest musicians sitting in almost every night – Fred Neil, Ritchie Havens, Jim Kweskin Jug Band with Maria Muldaur, and others.  We usually played 2-3 sets a night at Cafe Wha? On Sunday afternoons, we were actually kind of a soul act at the famous Irish pub P. J. Clarke's. We played songs by Wilson Pickett, Smokey Robinson and Mitch Ryder there with Gus on the electric piano. We also played the college circuit with Chad & Jeremy, Paul Revere & the Raiders and ? and the Mysterians. Our first gig in New York was actually at a teeny bopper club in the Bronx called the Launching Pad. 

(Gus) The Kitchen Cinq, J.D. Souther was a part of it then. At the Café Wha we shared the stage with all sorts—Richie Havens, Jose Feliciano, Chambers Brothers, an Australian Hypnotist named Martin St James, Jimi Hendrix was across the street playing in John Hammond Jr’s band, the Fugs were next door, the Blues Project, Blues Magoos, Spoonful, were all a door or two away, Frank Zappa took up residence for awhile.  I remember knowing Neil Diamond from the neighborhood—after he sold his first song, he showed up on 3rd and MacDougal on a brand new bike--a Honda Hawk, as I remember it—black on black, with leathers---man, he made it!!!  What later would become Spanky and Our Gang were around—Chicago folkies—Malcom Hale, Spanky McFarland, Oz Bock, probably others I’m forgetting----

(Jim) We played with an outlandish Mitch Ryder in Baltimore.  Garland Jeffreys used to come to our shows all the time in the Village.

Webster's New Word at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC (1967)
L to R-KC Lynch, Buddy Hill, Jim Mason and Gus Duffy

Which New York City Studios were these recorded at?

(Gus) Studio A at Columbia..same studio as Pete Seeger, Dylan, etc.
The RCA sides recorded were recorded at their Studio A equivalent.

Howard Roberts produced half of these singles.  At first, I thought he was the famous jazz and Wrecking Crew session guitarist who played lead guitar on classic TV theme songs (e.g. The Munsters, The Brady Bunch).    

(Jim) The Howard Roberts who was our first producer actually had a business card that stated: "Not the West Coast Guitarist Howard Roberts."

(Gus) He was Harry Belafonte’s choral director prior to joining Columbia as producer.  John Hammond put us together with him.  

Production credits for the East Coast Howard A. Roberts include singles for Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett and Tuesday's Children

(Jim) Our producer at RCA was Joe Rene who produced Bobby Lewis (Tossin' and Turnin'), Nina Samone, The Jive Five ("My True Story") among many others. 

Let's go into the songs
Gus are you playing a Rickenbacker 360 12-String guitar on "I Don't Want to be the One"?

(Gus) It was actually an emerald green Burns Baldwin 12 string that I lugged around as it weighed a ton.
(Jim)  "I Don't Want to Be the One" actually gave us the opportunity to go to Cleveland and appear on the Upbeat television show.
(KC)  What I remember about Cleveland was seeing tanks out in the streets when the show was over.

KC is referring to the Hough riots that took place in July of 1966. 


Which kind of "wooden frog" is making the clicking sound incorporated on "Take a Look"?

(Gus) Cross sticking on the snare drum (a bebop lick) and a guiro in there somewhere.

Who is playing the bongo on "Henry Thachet"?

I think conga (not bongos) was Emile Latimer...he was with Richie Havens I think...we all hung out in the Village.

How large was the role of the studio musicians in the recordings? 

(Gus) They played a large part, but not everything . Some of the finest NY studio guys, especially drums and bass, Artie Schroeck  might have been on keys on some tunes.  
All done “live”, with minimal overdub.  “Auto tune” hadn’t been invented, so we had to sing in tune.  What a concept!

(Jim) Vinnie Bell came in with a sharkskin suit and offered the sounds of his electric sitar.  That offer was quickly vetoed.

What brought about the move to RCA?

(Gus) It happened at the level above the producer...our manager Bill O’Boyle probably had a hand in it.

What song stands out to you from this vantage point?

(Jim) "When You Grow Up" I was going for a John Lennon thing.  I thought I was a genius at the time for using waltz time.

(Gus) I will have to disagree, I think "When you Grow Up" is a little too busy.
However, that 7/4 time signature  in "Hard Loving Loser"...waaaay ahead of its time!

(KC) "Get Together" as it expresses our strengths with vocal harmonies.   It was our first single for Columbia and yes we first heard it done by the Airplane in a little joint on lower Fillmore San Francisco.  It was the song that we wanted to do, in the early days when we got to do what we wanted.  John Hammond, of beloved memory, produced that first session in Studio A. The engineer was Bob Johnston of “Are we rolling. Bob?” on Nashville Skyline.  Hammond was neither a hands-on producer or A&R guy. What John was was the greatest music witch of his generation, and maybe any generation.  When “Get Together” didn’t take off, it could be it had something to do with “We Can Work it Out” and “Paperback Writer” being released a couple days earlier.  Hammond seemed to blame himself, and brought in Howard Roberts, a jazz horn player who was all wrong for us. "You Still Thrill Me, Babe" comes in second as it also encapsulates our vocal strengths and has that nice bridge--"Lots of Pretty Girls Around..."

(Gus) I had picked "Get Together" out of the Airplane repertoire and played it for WNW...a truly great song, as proved out.  I don't recall the beats per minute being so high.

(Jim) Maybe someone  at Sony Music/Columbia recently sped it up! The Kingston Trio performed an early version titled "Let's Get Together." As we know it was later made famous by the Youngbloods who included it in their sets as the house band at Club Au Go Go in the Village. Felix Pappalardi was the arranger of our version.

Any other recordings out there or recordings lost to time?

(Jim) Did Gus ever tell you about the "Funston Song"?  We played it during our audition for John Hammond.  It was similar in structure to the wonderful "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" by the Byrds.  Gus, how about that Gillette's Heads Up spot?

(Gus) The “Funston Song” had the official title of “Future Departure From a Love On the Road”.  An extraordinary song, apparently a “one and done” for Mike Funston.  He was a  (South Bend) Townie, and if we were 19-20, he would have been 15-16.  There may be CBS lacquer disc of the demo session.  Webster's also did a Gillette "Heads Up" hair goo commercial,  but I couldn't participate because my hair was too long. I just did the music track! We also did a commercial for Kohler Distributing. 

(KC) Gillette's Heads Up commercial aired during the 1967 World Series.  We were rooting for the series to go seven games so we could make some serious coin.  It did!.  The ad agency dressed us up for the shoot in these ridiculous Austin Powers “groovy” outfits with white belts. As I’m standing in the street this limo pulls over, with Bob Dylan, who recognizes me and says with his usual charm, “Hey man give me you belt.” I say, “Can’t do it.” He says, “C’mon man I need the belt, I got a concert.”  “No,” I say.  I kind of wish I could have given, or sold, it to him, because I knew I would never be wearing it again.

Was there ever an album in the works or in the planning stages or other projects in the works?

(Gus) Probably...we may never know.  It was all about singles.  

(KC) One of the last things we did as a band was to appear in a truly forgettable film titled Good Morning Freedom.  The film combined an American Revolution/Bicentennial theme with Help! and A Hard Day's Night hi-jinks and was directed by Ezra Stone (who was most known at that time for his television direction work on shows like Lassie, The Munsters and later Love, American Style).  The film, was made in tribute to Ezra’s father Sol Feinstone, who founded the David Library of the American Revolution.  We filmed at places like the Lexington and Concord Battlefields and even atop the Statue of Liberty.

Caleb Deschanel was a young assistant who got to shoot one shot at the Concord bridge. The actual DP (Director of Photography) was a guy named George Pickow who was the husband of Jean Ritchie, the famous dulcimer player.  Gus, Caleb and I watched the film on TV, probably the only time it was aired, at my apartment on Moorpark Ave. in Studio City.  It was painful and funny at the same time.

Caleb Deschanel, father of Zooey Deschanel, later went on to be Director of Photography for films like More American Graffiti, Being There, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years and major productions like The Right Stuff, Black Stallion, The Passion of the Christ, and The Lion King.

Great Society 1967-WNW with Vice President Hubert Humphrey
L to R-Jerry Peloquin, Gus Duffy, KC Lynch, HH, Jim Mason, Buddy Hill  and John Gilmore
Final words?

(Jim) It could be an exercise in retaining the rights, but at the same time it is very gratifying to have these "slightly off-center" recordings be recognized, presented in their full dynamic range and available  beyond the scratchy 45s.

(Gus) My take is that somebody at Columbia/Sony understands the value of content.  50 years later, these songs still hold up!  The release has brought about a real jolt of awareness.

(KC) I think we got as far as we did for three reasons: First, Buddy Hill's voice was a key differentiator.  Second, the presence of Buddy as there were few integrated pop rock groups at the time and lastly, we genuinely enjoyed each other's company.  Thankfully, everyone involved was even-tempered and egos were not a factor.

Post-Webster's New Word
Jerry Peloquin and Jim Mason to WINGS
KC Lynch to Universal City Studios where he started his film career
Gus Duffy back to Notre Dame to study architecture & play in Captain Electric and the Flying Lapels
Buddy home to Bermuda to work in advertising and the arts
Jon Talbot to art world fame


"Den, 4 p.m. today, my house. I got this lead guitarist named Gus coming over. Get this, he used to play with the Airplane."

xcerpt from Not Turning Back by Dennis Lopez of the Soul Survivors, the Plague and Captain Electric and the Flying Lapels which included Gus Duffy (post-Webster's New Word). The band recorded an unreleased album, The Symphony, at Golden Voice Studios which was intended for ABC Dunhill in 1968 after Tom Wilson heard their demo tape.

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