Roger Klug waxes on some of the individual
tracks from Where
Has The Music Gone?: The Lost Recordings of Clem Comstock
I took the liberty of editing these comments into cohesive paragraphs on each song as this conversation took place between and during multiple games of Animal Twister at a mutual acquaintance's house. In this way, I was able to edit out the "er"s, "um"s, "hand on the squirrel!"s and "foot on the lion!"s which might have easily detracted from the continuity.
Battle of the Wills
The title of this song couldn't have been more appropriate for the session. Originally intended as a soft tango number, the intimacy of 'Battle Of The Wills' was disturbed by a plumber who was working in the same building as the studio. Clem was having the damndest time isolating the noise, and he ended up having words with this guy, apparently a very large man of Irish descent, I know this 'cos you can hear his voice come across loud and clear on the tape at one point, something to the effect of, "listen Laddie, I've got me own bleedin' work to do and you've got yours, so shove off ere I make mincemeat outta ya, Erin go bragh!" There was no compromising and Clem just couldn't cancel the session, he had all the musicians there. In a fit of spontaneity, he led the musicians and a confused Gary Cilantro through a fast and furious version, speeding the song's tempo up to mask out the plumber's racket. Unbelievably, he ended up incorporating the noise into the track and you don't even notice it.
Most likely "Brave Sir Knight and the Squires" is Clem's moniker for an aggregate of studio musicians; it's definitely Rick N. Baker of the Bubs Daddies on fuzz bass, and I haven't run into anybody around here who remembers the group performing live, ever. The alternate version of "Tilt-A-Whirl Tongue" with tuba playing the carnival riff instead of fuzz bass is a real hoot.
I dig "Frat Rock" because I can't figure out if it's the ultimate frat-party song or the ultimate anti-frat-party song. "Frat Rock," like "Sport Utility Vehicle" before it, was a case of Clem wanting a certain style and having to go out and find the players who could do it authentically, in this case, the Stalagmites. The Stalagmites were four guys, kids basically, who used to rehearse in a room over his dentist's office, and the official legend is Clem was so taken by the upstairs din that he jumped out of the dentist's chair with a fluoride treatment still in his mouth and sought out the as-yet-undiscovered talents. The finished track sounds like a lot of fun, Bridgette Schulte is in there as part of the background party, but it was another case of "Clem's way or no way" as his solid-rock approach was at odds with the Stalagmites' lack of discipline in the recording studio (which none of them had ever been in before, unless you count the time they went to Florida on spring break and made one of those instant wax records in a booth next to the fortune teller's tent). There was some shouting involved and pointing of fingers, but once they all realized they were going for the same goal, to make "the ultimate party record," they proceeded, in one take no less, to record one of the lost treasures from the Midwestern Garage Rock Songbook of the 1960s. Apparently the song is still known and loved by some Ohio-area fraternities whose members, no doubt, are descendants, legitimate or otherwise, of the Stalagmites.
It seems amazing that Rita Peach, lead vocalist of Rita and the Sweets, had never before until this session heard the famous Mozart theme that Clem adapted (O.K., swiped) into the rousing anthem that is "Don't Go." A swift session, by all accounts, the only foray into indecisiveness was over whether or not to use saxophone or electric piano for the solo. Needless to say, the mighty Wurlitzer ruled the day.
Counting To Infinity
Originally called The Peat Bogs, The United Federation of Sisterhood and Brotherhood were a large, co-ed band who, taking their cues from such psychedelic acts as the Monkees and Peter, Paul and Mary, tried to push the cosmic barriers of the three-minute pop song back at least another minute or so. The tambourine player on this track was a non-musical friend of the band's, which is curious considering they very generously gave him a solo! Clem wasn't sure if it would work, but hindsight shows he was correct in letting the group have its way. Plus he had an awful sinus infection that day and his resistance was weak. There is a version (take 11) where the singers count to 622 at the end, it's quite fascinating; maybe on the Clem boxed set...
With or without the hyphen, no one knows for sure. An interesting session. The perky teen singer Judy Spanner nailed the somewhat difficult melody beautifully, but Clem got into a ferocious argument with the trombonists over how their part should be played. He apparently had ruffled their feathers already with some joke about "what do you call a trombone player with an answering service? an optimist" and tensions exploded; they left in a huff, so the piano part on the final master is actually what the trombones were supposed to play.
Reed Pipe Boogie
Everyone knows Lonnie Mack, of course, but Norman Frieberg was a hot guitarist in the area back in the day as well. Admittedly, the idea of incorporating classical themes into pop songs was nothing new (see "Don't Go"), but this tune rocks pretty hard for 1963. This is take 3 and, excepting the strange oboe-like sound at 0:33 (man or machine? you decide) and the Dick-Dale-like widdly-widdlying in the bridge, performed completely live.
He Got Bored With Me
This was another number that morphed several times during the session, starting out as a more typical, upbeat number reminiscent of many girl groups of the day. But around Take 6 Clem drastically slowed the tempo down, sent the horn players home, told pianist Cal Davis to hit the keys only once every chord change, any more and he'd be docked accordingly, and removed "Sticks" Andrews' drumsticks from the drummer's own hands, foisting brushes upon him instead for a more intimate sound. Features a self-duet vocal performance by Jennifer Houston, who later went on to star in some interesting movies during the late '60s/early '70s, I think a few made their way onto video and can be found floating around at various conventions and adult bookstores.
They Say They Can (I'd Like To See
"They Say" has a lot of pathos in it, it was a difficult session for Clem. His gravy train of hits was starting to run out, he was feeling out of touch and bewildered by all the newer groups of the day, he put a lot of pressure on himself and delivered this opus to radio and radio just didn't get it, it confounded them, all of the starts and stops, the tempo changes, the jazzier sound, the fact that it was an epic three-and-a-half minutes long! Maybe Clem set himself up for the fall; here he was, operating outside a music epicenter, a veritable asteroid in the music business galaxy, and maybe they thought he was getting too big for his britches. He certainly felt there was some conspiracy going on against him. This session, once again featuring a two-headed Gary Cilantro, is too painful to listen to, let alone describe. Suffice to say that despite the madness and the pain, something positive, i.e. this song, came out of it all.
Continue to Part Three, where Roger continues to discuss individual tracks from Where Has The Music Gone?: The Lost Recordings of Clem Comstock
[Clem Comstock Home] [R.K. interview, Pt. 1] [Mental Giant Home]