Butts Band 1
Butts Band 2
Butts Band 3
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.
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.
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.’
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. “
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
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