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Butts Band

On the Baja Bus

In 1973, Jess teamed up with John Densmore and Robby Kreiger from the Doors to form The Butts Band. Although it could be construed that Densmore and Krieger were attempting the impossible – trying to find a replacement for the Doors’ late Jim Morrison, this was actually a long way from the case.

By the time they’d met Jess, they had already auditioned several singers, among whom were Kevin Coyne (then of Siren) and Howard Werth (of Audience).

Indeed, Werth rehearsed with the pair for a week – and, alledgedly, (manager) Jac Holzman favoured Howard taking over the slot as he had once imagined that Audience would fill The Doors own spot on Elektra.

Audience were falling apart as a band and Werth (potentially) merging to create a ‘new’ Doors’ had some (early ‘70’s) logic behind it. In the end it wasn’t to be as Ray Manzarek upped sticks and returned to L.A – effectively ending The Doors, per se, as a band for all time.

ROBBIE KREIGER - “Before An American Prayer, we did two albums as the Doors; Full Circle and Other Voices, which were fairly well received albums.”

“But the problem was after Jim had gone, the three of us couldn’t get along anymore. We did for a while but after a while, it got very strange.”

“We all decided to go to England and maybe find a singer over there. So we all went over there, kind of moved over there.”

“Then Dorothy, Ray’s wife, got pregnant and she had gone through some weird stuff. So Ray decided to go back home”.

Densmore and Krieger hung on… and hung out some more staying at an hotel on Park Lane.

ROBBIE KREIGER - “It wasn’t very easy. You’d call up people and say ‘Come down and jam’ but they’d know it really was an audition and the pressure would creep in.”

JOHN DENSMORE - “Jess Roden was the first. We’d been through a few singers but Jess seemed right. He sang Robby’s melodies well and he had some of his own material.”

“David Harper had been The Doors’ tour manager and when R and J told him they were looking to start up a new band and would like a British singer, it was Harper who suggested they try me out.”

Harper was, at that time, juggling both tour management duties as well as f.o.h sound for a number of acts; he was also involved with Traffric and would later go on to either manage or co-manage Robert Palmer, UB40 and Ephraim Lewis.

He also did f.o.h. sound when Bob Marley’s seminal Live At The Lyceum album was recorded, that July Saturday in the steaming hot summer of ‘74 when Arthur Ashe became the first black tennis player to win Wimbledon.

JR - “I went and met them at their hotel and we talked and I was immediately taken with them as really down to earth, nice guys.

‘They said that The Doors had pretty much run its course and that Ray Manzarek had had some kind of problem and had gone back to LA and he wouldn’t be part of the new set up.

‘So... did I know any good bass players? Actually... several, but mostly it was Philip Chen for me at that time and so I suggested him.

‘Phil was mainly doing session work then and was happy to join in. Plus he and I had also worked together with Pete Townsend and The Who on the soundtrack for the film version of Tommy.”

JOHN DENSMORE - “Jess brought Philip and Roy with him. Phillip’s a really excellent bass player... We went through a lot of bass players. Didn’t even start a song. He played for about ten seconds and Robby and I looked at each other and said ‘this is it’.”

JR - “R and J had set up some equipment at a fine house* in the Hampton Court area – it had a fairly large annex that the then owner hired out as a rehearsal studio.”

“The four of us went there over a number of days and jammed on some James Brown stuff and other soul classics. It all sounded pretty good although also, quite unusual.

‘Robby’s main influence and passion was flamenco guitar, John played in a jazzy style with plenty of cymbal work and subtle bass drum, Phil was pure motown/funk. It was decided that a keyboard player would add spice to the mix and so Phil called up a friend that he frequently worked with.

‘Roy Davies (sadly, now deceased) agreed to join in. Roy played Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ and, an ARP synthesiser that looked pretty much like what I imagine a 1950’s telephone exchange would look like – all wires and knobs.”

JOHN DENSMORE - “Roy Davies was in a band called Gonzalez which had fifteen or twenty members...like they had two or three drummers, bass players whatever and when one of them can’t make it one of the others stand in. Just a local band of really good players.”

Besides Gonzalez, Davies’ pedigree included work on a number of recordings by Freddie King, Doris Troy and Maggie Bell. Before his untimely death, he would also work with Elton John, Madness, Dr Feelgood as well as guest on other of Jess’ records.

“We continued to rehearse for the next couple of weeks – mostly soul covers but with a couple of our (and my) own compositions.”

And, after a couple of weeks work, the band decamped to Olympic and within a matter of (what seemed like) days, had half of an album in the proverbial can.

 

Dynamic Sound, Kingston Jamaica
“When we recorded in downtown Kingston – Jimmy Cliff was recording in the adjoining studio. Bruce Botnick, from California, flew in and was the recording engineer and producer for the project.”

Bruce Bothnick

As an engineer and producer, Bruce Botnick recorded many top artists in the 1960s, particularly for Liberty – working with Jack Nitzsche. He is, however, probably better known for his work with the Elektra label.
He was the engineer for Love’s first two albums, and co-produced their classic third album, 1967’s Forever Changes, with the band’s principal singer-songwriter, Arthur Lee.
 
His relationship with The Doors goes back to engineering their first five albums before producing their last with Jim Morrison, L.A. Woman.
 
He is also credited as engineer on the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed album as well as producing Eddie Money’s first two albums as well as two late 70s / early 80s records for Phil Collins’ group, The Beat.
 
An Emmy nominee in 1994 (for Kenny Loggins’ Outside The Redwoods) Botnick has over 70 films to his credit including various Star Treks, Indiana Jones, Rambo, Poltergeist, Air Force One, Basic Instinct, Waterworld and Psycho 4 among many others.

 

“But the problem was after Jim had gone, the three of us couldn’t get along anymore. We did for a while but after a while, it got very strange.” Robbie Krieger
 
Far left, Robby Krieger (photographed during rehearsals at The Garrick House).
Left, John Densmore Above, Dave Harper
Below Phil Chen
* The fine house that Jess refers to was Garrick House - once owned by the English actor, playwright and theatre manager (notably Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) David Garrick (1717-1779), a friend of Dr Johnson and a seminal figure within 18th century theatre.
The main house was Grade 1 listed (in other words of extreme historical significance) but – and long after the fledgling Butts Band had moved on – was badly damaged by fire in October 2008.
“Then, after the sessions at Olympic - with wives, girlfriends etc, - we all flew to Jamaica to record the second part of the album.”
Reflecting on their choice of heading to Jamaica, John Densmore said in an interview shortly after making the album: “We’re not really that reggae influenced. Thats been blown out of all proportion. It’s just that Phil was born there....I think we are moving towards white soul than a reggae thing.....and I don’t think it sounds like The Doors either.” “While we were making the album I could not really be objective but now I don’t think it sounds like The Doors beyond that the drummer and guitarist are from The Doors. Robby and I have been influenced by different stuff now and I think its going to go further away. It feels good to do something new... to be ‘done’ with The Doors.....it was great believe me but its fresh now and exciting to have to start all over and scuffle around.” “I think that Robby and John wanted to create a casual atmosphere for all of us (they succeeded) – we stayed in little cottages in a holiday complex in Ochio Rios for two weeks. ‘We would swim and play frisbee etc first thing in the morning then write and rehearse in the afternoon and early evening. ‘It was very relaxed and, very productive. ‘On our last day at the complex, we set up our equipment and gave a concert to the people who had looked after us for the two weeks. It was great fun and a good way to break in the songs we’d written. ‘Next day we decamped to Strawberry Hill (CB’s house atop the Blue Mountains). ‘In fact, it was pretty scary getting up and down from there in a VW camper van that was driven full throttle around, and over all obstacles.” “It took just a week to record all of those tracks – so then we all headed to our respective homes (California and England) for a bit of a nap.
... about an hour’s – uphill – journey from Kingston via exceedingly twisting and narrow roads before one reaches Strawberry Hill – set high into Irish Town in The Blue Mountains.
 
This, extraordinary mountain-top haven began life as an 18th century coffee plantation that was originally deeded by the British Royal Family to Horace Walpole.
Indeed, his name is synonymous with the house of the same name in Twickenham, just west of London – after which this estate took its own name.
 
Blackwell, himself, acquired the house in 1972 – and it was here that Bob Marley was transported – amidst great secrecy – after being wounded in the December 1976 assasination attempt just two days prior to “Smile Jamaica” – a free concert organized by the Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley in an attempt to ease tension between the warring political parties in Jamaica.
 
The show went ahead to 80,000 people with Bob backed by Zap Pow since members of The Wailers were either in hiding or, simply, missing.

Strawberry Hill

‘After this short break, we all got together again in Los Angeles a couple of weeks later and began adding a few overdubs and mixing. ‘Everything went pretty well and the band existed in a cool and relaxed atmosphere. I remember one evening spent with John Densmore when he and I went to a little bar/club up in Topanga Canyon and ended up jamming some blues with, (I’m pretty sure), Bob Hite of Canned Heat – I played drums! ‘When the mixing was done, Abe Summers who had been The Doors’ lawyer, started to place the album with various record companies.” JOHN DENSMORE - “We were in the process of signing The Butts Band to Elektra because of Jac Holzman. As The Doors we had a fairly good releationship with him over the years and he was sort of a father figure. But he decided to retire and we were out on the street.”
﷯“The original idea was to be on Elektra in the States and Island in the UK but with Jac going things changed quite a bit. Then we remembered Bob Krasnow at Blue Thumb. He had been in the backgound all along and liked the band and was really enthusiastic. It wasn’t money really ...he was just very commited”
“Of course, I was still signed to Island, so I can’t imagine the manouvering that went on behind the scenes so that all parties agreed. ‘In any event, Blue Thumb Records picked up the album and that was just alright with Island.” “I had the idea for the band’s name and also the album cover. The name came from a street in Kidderminster (The Butts). Half way up The Butts – it was a bit of a hill with a rock on one side – there was a urinal carved like a cave into the rock and, one of my songs on the unreleased album that I made with ‘Rabbit’ was called ‘The Old Butts Cave-house Band’. ‘Robbie and John explained to me what a Butt was in America – doh! – but, they liked the name and thought it to be pretty radical. ‘We then did all the photo shoots and other ‘stuff’ that tended to happen around the release of a record then.”

Butts Band

The promotions

Blue Thumb Records

... was the idea of Bob Krasnow. He’d cut his teeth out on the road with James Brown before running King and then Kama Sutra Records. Krasnow recruited two key players from A&M – producer Tommy LiPuma and marketing man Don Graham, and, an entirely ‘different’ US record label was born.

The label’s name actually came by way of Captain Beefheart; he was planning on calling his new band Blue Thumb but... Krasnow talked him out of it for the band... telling Beefheart he’d like it as the name for his label.

Krasnow and company located the label’s offices in Beverly Hills, making it the first upscale quasi-alternative music label in Hollywood and, in many senses, a mirror to Island in the UK.

In addition to the music, Blue Thumb deliberately packaged their albums to appeal to the targeted buyer. For example, many had fold-open or gatefold covers, and the graphics were never entirely predictable.

Probably the most famous album packaging of their time was the Dave Mason album Alone Together, (BTS 19) pictured right, which was issued in a three-fold “kangaroo pack” opened up to become a poster for wall hanging (it even had a small hole in the top for the nail). At the bottom of this poster was a pouch for the record album, which – clearly – was meant to be viewed as well as heard.

Indeed, the record itself was unique – in the very literal sense of the word; it came pressed as marbled vinyl and this (effect) was made by the manufacturers dropping coloured pellets into the hot vinyl mix – the result being that the colour pattern of every single piece of vinyl produced was different. However, while undoubtedly unique... not entirely cost-effective.

Island had a particularly loose licensing arrangement with Blue Thumb – only a handful of releases were given the coveted ILPS prefix – besides The Butts Band, records by Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, The Crusaders, Phil Upchurch and National Lampoon’s recordings were among the very few.

 

 

The US release party was held in Chasens,above, a very upscale restaurant in West Hollywood at 9039 Beverly Boulevard that, for many years, was the site of the Academy Awards party. It was also noted for its Chilli dishes – indeed,  Liz Taylor had several orders of Chasen’s chilli flown to the set of Cleopatra while filming in Rome during 1962.
 
Many of its regular customers had booths named after them – for example, the Ronald Reagan booth is now on display at the Presidential Library museum and was where  he was seated when he proposed to Nancy.
 
Sinatra, Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart and Groucho Marx had booths named after them while the restaurant was also a favoured hang out for the likes of Gregory Peck, Bob Hope, Richard Nixon, Kirk Douglas and, in later years, John Travolta, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Mel Gibson.

And... The Butts Band launch – well, Blue Thumb indulged in a (weird / of the time, maybe?) promotional exercise on the night that entailed three naked male streakers rushing around the restaurant with the band’s name inked across their buttocks.

“The idea,” Bob Krasnow explained at the time, “was that the marketing was going to be compatible with the music, which was different.”

“I mean, no one had ever heard this kind of music, so how could it possibly be marketed in traditional ways?”

“At the time, record companies were trying to squash the music into the marketing mold rather than trying to broaden the marketing mold to fit the music, and that just didn’t make sense to me.”

The band also played an album launch party at The Roxy on Sunset Strip in March 1974 before heading off on a short tour of the U.S. to promote the new album – including New Orleans, Boston, Dallas, multiple nights at Max’s Kansas City in New York and Philadelphia.

“We rented an apartment just off La Cienega Blvd and rehearsed pretty much every day for a couple of weeks and then hit the road.”

“The gigs we did were mostly clubs that held a couple of hundred people but it was all great fun and we were a really good little band!”

And, according to Robby Krieger (as quoted in DoorsQuarterlyOnLine) the band recorded one of the shows as well – ‘Oh, you know, we did a live recording with The Butts Band in Boston but I don’t know whatever happened to it.’

US PR pic of The Butts Band, probably taken at Strawberry Hill in Jamaica just prior to recording the second half of the album. L-R: John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Roy Davies, JR, Phil Chen

JR -  “We also did a spot on a TV show ‘The Midnight Special’, hosted by the legendary Wolfman Jack.”

The Wolfman (born plain Robert Smith) was, quite simply, a cornerstone of (American) rock history; over time becoming one of the most influential DJ’s of the sixties and seventies while also hosting The Midnight Special on NBC for nearly nine years with other of his shows being networked throughout all of North America. The gravel-voiced DJ spun his last in 1995.

“And, I suppose we must have toured all over the country for about a month.

‘When touring was over, we all headed to our respective homes. The English contingent, Roy, Phil and I, were always pretty homesick in LA. “

 

Max’s Kansas City in New York
Robby Krieger, JR, Phil Chen - soundcheck or rehearsing – location unknown

Butts Band

Splitting differences

﷯The band then played a handful of UK shows but, in a sense the writing was already on the wall. The - somewhat low-key – mini-tour included opening for the Mael Bros Sparks in Hull, a date at The Greyhound in Croydon, Barbarellas in Birmingham and the University of Reading as well as opening for The Kinks at The Palldium in London. They also recorded one, two-song, TV appearance – BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test – of which, the NME’s Mick Farren said in the paper’s June 22 ‘74 edition: “Recording of the electric bands that normally open and close the show takes place on a Monday afternoon.” ﷯“In this instance it’s the Butts Band, the latest incarnation of ex-Doors Robbie Krieger and John Densmore – who prove tight, well-rehearsed and ultimately professional.” “This latter fact is a relief to director Colin Strong. He has two hours to put two songs on tape. Most of that time is spent lining up the shots, rehearsing the camera moves and getting a sound balance. If the band decides to screw up as well, the whole operation can be thrown into panic and confusion.”
“The position is further aggravated by the possibilities of complaints of sound leak from neighbouring studios, and a mysterious BBC rota system that can give them, at any time, a sound engineer who may never have worked with music – or who hates longhairs and rock and roll.” “This need to save time extends, to a degree, into the actual booking policy. It isn’t categorically stated, but you get the feeling that preference is given to bands who demonstrate their reliability. As I left the TV Centre I happened to glance up at the roof of the lift. There, written in purple magic marker, was the legend – “TV sucks”. It seemed strangely apt.”
In the same edition of The NME, JR was quoted: “I wasn’t too sure about it at the time because I know I’m no Jim Morrison. "Thats just not my cup of tea at all. And I’m really not the kind of guy who could hold a position of being an outrageous singer fronting a group.” “But I realized the band probably wouldn’t carry on as The Doors anyway once other musicians were introduced...and thats the way it worked out...”
At the time, however (and perhaps referring to JR’s own plans), John Densmore was a little more contrite, stating: “The trouble was that we really were not together as a group.” “People were talking about solo albums and it takes years to establish the foundation... its a commitment like being married.” “Four or five people have to say ‘OK its us against the world. We’re gonna do it for three years or so and then if nothing has happened we can think about solo projects’......Thats what got ME fed up. The lack of commitment.”
Nevertheless, JR was somewhat more diplomatic, saying (again at the same time): “There was no ex-Doors hype and Robby and John were both lovely people with a genuine yearning to go back and start it all again without Jim Morrison.” “But for some reason they didn’t have the energy. We didn’t have a lot in common and what I found was Jim had been such a powerful character for so long that they didn’t have any real strength to pursue a musical concept of thier own.....so we hardly did anything...a few clubs in the States...a nice scene but nothing special.” “We could have done it in the UK or the USA but it wasn’t getting anywhere. They didn’t have to do IT again...not with The Butts Band anyway.”
Back in ‘74, Krieger was similarly diplomatic. “We’d found some of the best musicians in Europe but since John and I lived in LA it turned out to be impossible to hold a band with two home bases together.”
Reflecting on The Butts Band after three-plus decades, JR concluded: “I suppose, ultimately, the pace of the whole thing being so casual, was the reason for the split. Because, although it was a good little band – both socially and musically – there really seemed very little ambition to make it more than that.”
The Butts Band did, in fact, record just the one more record - although with an entirely different line-up. The album was called Here And Now and featured Karl “Slick” Rucker (bass), Mike Stull (vocals) and Alex Richman (keyboards). Not long after, they disbanded for good. Meantime...things were changing back in London... Jess and CB hooked up; dusted down the old tape-boxes that had been gathering dust on the shelves in the tape-store at Basing Street and... started to make proper plans for his first solo record.

1. I Won’t Be Alone Anymore (Robbie Krieger)

2. Baja Bus (Robbie Krieger)

3. Sweet Danger (Jess Roden)

4.  Pop-A-Top (Jess Roden & Phil Chenn)

5. Be With Me (Robbie Krieger)

6. New Ways (Jess Roden)

7. Love Your Brother (Robbie Krieger)

8. Kansas City (Leiber & Stoller)

 

Jess Roden – Vocals, Guitar

Phillip Chen - Bass, Guitar (Track 4)

Roy Davies - Keyboards, Synthesiser

John Densmore - Bass

Robby Krieger - Guitar

Larry McDonald - Congas (Tracks 2, 4)

Allan Sharp - Congas (Track 7)

Mick Weaver - Wurlitzer Piano (Tracks 6, 8), Organ (Track 7)

 

Produced by: Bruce Botnick

Engineers: London / Keith Harwood & Kingston / Bruce Botnick

Recorded at: Olympic Studios, London and at Dynamic Sound, Kingston, Jamaica

Mixed at: Hollywood Sound Studios. Los Angeles

Labels: Blue Thumb (BTS 63) & Island (UK) ILPS 9260

Released: June 1974

Photography: Gary Brownell

Sleeve Concept: Jess Roden

Design: Cathy Deeter

Lettering: Len Freas

Review, Harold Bronso / Rolling Stone, May 9th 1974
 
“The debut of The Butts Band provides many pleasurable moments with its economical medium-tempo rock.
 
Roy Davies jazzy electric piano coupled with Kriegers tenuously blended guitar recalls The Doors ‘Riders on The Storm’.
 
Jess Roden sings wildly in a style reminiscent of Burton Cummings and some will find his harshness repelling. Theres plenty of variety. They go from conga-addled soul rythms to floating synthisized rveries but the album coheres well. The band shows further promise in elevating mediocre songs into listenable cuts through creative arranging.”

 

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