Terry Kirkman

The Soul of the Association Remembers….

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 804   By: Robert 'Bo' White

05th February, 2015     1

Terry Kirkman is an anomaly in the pantheon of pop star narcissism; he does not gaze at his reflection nor does he look into the abyss. He has a clear-eyed perspective about his past life as a successful singer and songwriter, with just enough faux gravitas that can confuse as well as delight. He has a fine tuned tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that can give the listener a foggy notion that here is something much deeper.

It’s Kirkman doing Mose Allison and nailing it to the cross. The Association was birthed in 1965 and Kirkman was there to nurture the talents of the Men that joined the band. It wasn’t a perfect fit. Kirkman is a card carrying civil rights activist from Kansas who may have more in common with Pete Seeger and Tom Joad than his pop star alter ego. Kirkman is now 75 years old and he knows deeply that life is all that is and all that is not. We are at once limitless yet limited. The shift is from I have a soul to the soul has me. It is being everything and nothing.

For Kirkman there is love and a sense of healing. Here is his story - it is quite a sojourn.

How did it all begin for you?

Well, first of all I want to begin with the Troubadour which in the early mid-60s, was arguably the most powerful program enhancer and career-enhancer nightclub - simply one of the top three in the United States, certainly in the top ten in the world. By the time I came on the scene, there were the Monday night hootenannies, which was what we called an open-mic in those days. I don’t know if anybody knows what a hootenanny is anymore. By 1964 they had become showcases for powerful agents. Everybody fought politically to get their new acts, their new discoveries, whether they were from another state or from Orange County 50 miles from LA, whatever the deal was, people were trying to get on that hoot because the hoots were so powerful and so popular that they would be filled with agents and record companies and people trying to find the next best thing.

They were just shilling acts outside of traditional classic pop, which was the folk craze of the early & mid ‘60s with the Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, and then Joan Baez. That’s where everybody thought that the money was, and it was. And the Christy Minstrels were the biggest act in the world. They could perform anywhere in the world. So the Monday night hoots were really powerful things, and by the time Jules Alexander, co-founder of the Association started hanging out there with me, the room was full of people anxious to get up and play and to be seen and to put it together - 30 or 40 of whom on any given night were going to become relatively droppable names in American music history.

Doug Dillard, banjo player from the bluegrass group, the Dillards, who we all thought of as the best banjo player we’d ever heard. Doug was doing The Andy Griffith Show, so they were all in Hollywood. Doug was really appalled that the Monday night Hoots at the Troubadour had just become showcases, political, so he decided to do something about it. He went around and he pitched to everybody he could in the room that night, say there were 200 people in the Troubadour on a Monday night, and Doug would go around saying, “You want to get up on stage and play some real folk music, go ahead and do it.”

So it went down, and they said, “Well, you have to have a name for your act.” Doug said, “We’re called the Inner Tubes,” and so the MC at this hootenanny gets up and says, “Okay, here’s the Inner Tubes,” and about 20 of us got on stage. And all we did was pick about four or five songs that everybody could play and sing ‘em, and then the whole audience sang and made it into a true hootenanny. So it wasn’t just the 15 or 20 or 25 people who might happen to be on stage. From then on every Monday night it was the Inner Tubes, but the whole room was singing these songs.

On stage everybody wanted to get a piece of the Inner Tubes. There was David Crosby, Mama Cass, you name it. Anybody that was in the room said, “Sure, I’ll do that,” and grabbed their instrument or their voice and came out of the Troubadour kitchen where folks like Spanky McFarlane were working. They’d get on stage and sing their four or five songs, all the verses, and play the solos, and give everybody a shot. It became one of the biggest draws in town. Everybody wanted to come and see this because nobody else was doing it. It was like real, real folk music.

Describe how the Inner Tubes evolved into The Men?

Doug Weston, the owner of the Troubadour, sent an emissary to announce that if anybody wanted to make the Inner Tubes into a real act, he would be willing to talk to us next Wednesday at 2:00. So everybody interested in that showed up next Wednesday at 2:00. Instead of 25 people including a lot of women, it was 13 of us and we were all men. So we became known as The Men. Nobody famous was in The Men. It was all the stragglers who were the only ones who showed up because nobody else wanted to get under his domain. Thirteen of us stragglers, and nobody knew whom we were, with the exception of one guy, thirteen of us showed up and we joined forces and became … The Men. We were billed as American’s first folk rock chorus and orchestra, the first act that we know that was ever called folk rock.

While we were first on the big stage of the Troubadour, the Beefeaters, who would become the Byrds, all of them had played in the Inner Tubes. They were rehearsing their new act, trying their best to be British and had British haircuts. David Crosby was even going around speaking with an English accent. Everyone wanted to be the Beatles. They were brand new. The Troubadour just became this hub of people making a new sound out of old ideas like the electric Rickenbacker guitar that Jimmy Webb played. We were the first folk group that we knew of, to have two electric instruments. We had an electric bass and an electric guitar and drums. Ted Buechel played drums but nobody had drums in a folk act. Everyone else was playing an acoustic instrument, so quite literally if you were an orchestrator or an arranger, you literally had an orchestra. You had the same internal range to draw from that a regular orchestra would have. The banjo became like a trumpet section and you’d have five guys just playing single notes, like a trumpet section, a reed section, and a string section. Wonderful. It was so much fun to write for and to arrange.

We used not only all the traditional folk stuff, but we leaned very heavily on piecing the voicing of the act the way Henry Mancini would use his instruments to rule an arrangement. We were doing the same thing, basic harmony. You’d want to build and have that. The trumpets come in on the third verse and then the strings come in on the second verse, and like that. We could do that. We could completely orchestrate a song. We played all over southern California. We had a folk house that we rehearsed in. There was an old actress on the radio by the name of Faye Emerson. When she died, she had a fully furnished house, a small kind of bungalow, maybe a three-bedroom bungalow in southwest Hollywood. Beverly Hills was adjacent. We moved into that house with all of its furniture, and there were probably 15 people that lived there - the Smothers Brothers, Ruthann Friedman who wrote One Day, she ended up living there. Acts who were coming through the folk clubs in LA, they’d find a place on the floor. Jules and I slept in the garage.

How long did The Men last?

It lasted probably close to a year. We were playing everywhere. We could sell places out, but you can’t keep 11 to 13 guys together with that kind of stuff. We ended up breaking up in rehearsal in Westmont Village one day. I had been elected the leader of The Men and said, “I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of this. We don’t have the money to keep this up, and I don’t think there’s any way around the fact that as exciting an idea as I think it is, or we know it is, we’re not going to be able to stay together. Rather than sit here and try to referee the arguments that are naturally occurring among the 11 of us, I think I’m going to just walk away from it.”

I walked out of the room and Jules walked out of the room, and while I’m standing out on the sidewalk on Larchmont Avenue, I’m thinking, “What did I just do?” I turned around and there were five more guys with me. They had walked out, so half of us had walked out, and we went to my apartment and smoked a joint and drank some wine, and tried to figure out what we were going to do, Either Bob Page or Brian Cole said, “Don’t look now, but there’s two baritones, two tenors, and two basses, and we could form a group.

Then a joke came out, “What would we call ourselves?” While we were looking up the word “aristocrat” which is the punchline to a horribly obscene joke, the woman I was living with was looking up the definition of aristocrats, and she found the word “association”, and that’s what we were named. That was in ’64, ’65.

What happened next? Is that when you got to know Dean Fredericks and the Valiant label?

Dean Fredericks was already involved with The Men. We had dropped Doug Weston, so Dean Fredericks came up with $25,000, which was a lot of money in ’65. And we got another house to live in on Ardmore. We rehearsed because we had this money to subsidize us. We had money and two cars. We rehearsed every day, eight hours a day, five days a week, for nine months. Wrote songs, played the songs, thought about what we should do, and then we debuted ourselves at the Troubadour and the Ice House in Pasadena where I live now. We debuted ourselves at both those clubs within about two weeks of each other. The Troubadour debut was like out of an MGM movie. It was just astonishing, the response that we got.

We went back to the Monday night hoots and unloaded this whole new act and literally tore the house down. We were 24 or 25 years old at the time. We would show up and do a concert at all these high schools. We had a fan club of 20,000 kids signed up, card-carrying members of the Association Fan Club, and we could not get arrested by a record company. Maybe the most interesting thing about being a crossover folk to pop act at that time, particularly the Association, is that there was no market-ready definition for the music we were making. That meant that there was no delivery system for our music in terms of the airwaves. There was no designated slot in the record stores. People would look at us and say, “I really, really like your music. I don’t know how to sell it.”

That is so hard for people to get their head around now. It’d be like if you were the first sitar act that showed up. What I could see was a little bit more dramatic, certainly a much more evolved thing, happened like it happened with The Men. Instead of being 11 guys, there were 6 guys and we had our costumes, our suits, our instruments, and we were electric. We still only had two cars. Dean Fredericks couldn’t get us arrested any place, any time. There was an ad for an open audition at, of all places, the Troubadour!

These guys wanted to form a record company around a couple of acts, and Dean didn’t put this together. The guys in the group argued about it. I was still the leader of the group, and I was pretty much in the same place I was when I walked out. I said, “I don’t want to go down and sing for people who look at us once again and say, ‘We don’t know what to do with you. I don’t know why we’re doing this,’” but we did it anyway.

We did three songs into our little audition, us standing on stage in our suits in this place that we had already torn the roof down maybe a half dozen times and waiting to be recognized by somebody with a record deal. Barry De Vorzon and Billy Sherman and Buddy Chandler were the three main honchos with this idea for a record company, and they said, “Okay, you’re it.” We said, “Well, you think we’re it, but who are you?” Billy Sherman was a big publishing company, one of those guys who walk around with sunglasses all day long. Barry De Vorzon was this very handsome, successful pop songwriter. He was a trust fund baby with a lot of money, and Billy Sherman was an arranger. So we thought about it, and we said, “You know, we’ve been passed on by Columbia, by RCA, by Warner Brothers.” The only company that had shown any interest in us was Motown, and Motown wanted to change our name, change our clothes, and change our music. We said, “We’re going to have an act. Just make the act. Don’t talk to us.” It was really frustrating, a really bizarre thing to actually be the purveyors of a whole new designation of sound, of music.

The sessions turned out to be “And Then…Along Comes the Association.” It was our first album. We released “Along Comes Mary” and it got to number five, but we previously released a single “One Too Many Mornings and “40 Times” by Jules Alexander (one of my favorite Association songs), that was our first record. So we did the album, and we hooked up with Kirk Dutcher and we recorded it at R&B Studio and then we did the basic tracks on the bus in Gary Paxton’s driveway. We were trying to figure out how to record music in a way that it hadn’t been recorded before. The largest machines we had were four tracks, and we were playing games back and forth between four tracks to make them eight tracks, and that was an unthinkable thing to do at the time.

I was going to ask about Larry Ramos because when he came in the band I thought he brought some energy. I thought he was a great singer too. How did he fit in when you brought him in?

Larry was fresh, I mean literally fresh from the Christy Minstrels.  And we had stopped by a recording studio to help a friend of ours, Mike Whalen, who was also in The Men, but then he replaced Barry McGuire in the Christy Minstrels. Mike was going to record a Jimmy Webb song, “Playground Susie.” We said, “Jules Alexander just left the group, so we’re looking.” Someone turned around and pointed at Larry Ramos and said, “He’s just left the group. Grab him.” It was expedient. He had all the performance jobs. He’d been the ukulele champion of Hawaii when he was like nine years old or something. (Laughter) He’d been singing all his life, and it was a no-brainer. We almost didn’t rehearse with him. We gave him a bunch of recordings. He picked up the parts he was singing, and we were off and running. He’d been performing his entire life. He was in the original King and I roadshow. He’d been on the Arthur Godfrey Show as a child playing the ukulele with Arthur Godfrey. He’d been performing since he was just a toddler.

You shared the lead vocal of “Never My Love” with Larry Ramos.  What gave you that idea to insert him there?  

We often sang double lead vocals, so Larry and I took a whack. Otherwise he would’ve been singing with Russ which he did on ‘Windy.” We would just look for little sounds, that Association sound of the double vocal. That was all.“

Never My Love,” we had spent maybe 12 hours in New York City on the road, exhausted, trying to get vocals down for the Insight album. The day was a complete disaster. People had called, they had the flu, they were exhausted, they were pissed off, “Why were we playing on the road, why don’t you schedule this better?” etc., etc When we were done with this horrible day, and I’m hanging around the studio in New York, and I looked at Howie, and I said, “Did you bring that Yester brothers song with you?” He said, ‘Yeah, I brought everything.” I said, “Could you put the basic tracks to that up and just let me hear it while you’re doing this?” …

I said, “Do you still have a mic on there?” Larry was just leaving the studio, and I said, “Larry, would you do something with me for a second? This is my idea for the lead vocal on “Never My Love.” It was what I called a sub tone. “It was singing like this,” you know (voice at higher pitch). “Cherish is the word I, you ask me if, there will come a time.” It was almost like a stage whisper. Larry said, “Cool.”

We went out and we just nailed that. “Never My Love” is always forgotten. Well, it was almost a forgotten song. We had started out recording that album with Jerry Yester that we did for the Renaissance album. Warner Brothers pulled the plug on Jerry. I was very disappointed. Bones Howe was essentially the producer and the engineer for the Mamas & the Papas. We grabbed him and he certainly knew how to do the vocals, knew the genre of music we were into. We were allotted no time. We allotted ourselves no time to do an album. We would do an entire album from the actual beginning of song selection. Instead of sitting there for days and listening to everything that you could listen to, trying to figure out what you were going to do, which were 12 songs we would’ve done, and then we would arrange the songs, and we’d work like crazy on that song. We would do an entire album in 40 days.

I wanted to ask you about the Monterey Pop Festival. What was that like for you?

It was big. It was an honor. It was historical, and it was really bad.  We had just finished recording “Requiem for the Masses.” We had just finished the “Insight Out” Album. We weren’t doing those songs yet because we hadn’t had rehearsal time to put them together for stage. The whole thing had been created in the studio, so we were not doing “Never My Love.” We were not doing “Requiem for the Masses” yet. We literally went from the studio to home, grabbed some clothes, got on a plane, and flew to Monterey. All we knew was that we were included in this thing that John and Michelle Phillips were doing and that it was in Monterey. We hadn’t really thought about, and I don’t think there was anybody else who thought about what it was really going to be like, because nobody had done it yet.

I think that one of the worse mistakes that we ever did was to do the Association Machine, which I had begged not to do. “Don’t do that here,” and the next thing I know Brian is starting off with the Association Machine and here we go. It knocked us out of the film. John Phillips just said to me bluntly a couple of years later, “So sorry you weren’t in the film. You didn’t fit the image.”

I understand you were involved in Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park”

Bones Howe brought Jimmy into the studio at the end of the end. Let’s go back to the 40-day concept again. We were on the 36th day of the 40-day finishing this really complicated album, the Birthday Album, and we’re almost in an entire new kind of music that’s a real departure from any song that anybody else was doing, in terms of voice and everything. We’re on a whole new ground and Bones Howe at about 10:00 on Sunday night brings Jimmy in and says, “Jimmy wants to play this for you.” Jimmy sits down in the Studio Three Steinway. Every great pianist that ever walked into a studio wanted to buy that piano. That’s how amazing it was. He sat down at that piano, and he sings “MacArthur Park” for us, 10 PM at night on the 35th day of a 40-day schedule. We’re listening to this incredible piece of music and we looked over and we said, “What do you want to do?”

Bob said, “I want to do this on the album.” I said, “You’re talking about 15 minutes of music.” It certainly ran eight minutes, and the prerequisite for a song to get on the air was still two minutes and fifteen seconds. I said, “You’re talking about a whole concept for an entire album here.” Again I’m hypothesizing, and we’re on the 36th day. We had like three days to finish this album, and he wants to bring this in to put it on that album? I said, “We can’t do that.” I mean, we all said that. “Jimmy, there’s nothing wrong with this song. This is an incredible song. We can’t do it.”

All of a sudden it became the Association turning our backs to a great musical composition.  I have actually looked into suing people who printed that story, over and over again. Look Magazine had a special issue that was on the sound makers, and it wasn’t just the acts. It was eight or ten of the top record producers from pop music…  Bones Howe was one of them. He did us; he did the Mamas & Papas. He did the Fifth Dimension. His interview in Look Magazine wasn’t about all the great acts that he recorded. It was about that story that we had rebuffed him on MacArthur Park.

I appreciate you laying it out there. That takes some guts, I’m really happy we had this chance to meet.

I’m not in the business anymore, so I really don’t have anything to lose, do I? I’ve reinvented myself maybe five times. I’ve been a television writer; I’ve been a drug and alcohol counselor for five years.  I’m more interested in the pursuit, trying to foster a community of artists who are just as dangerous, just has high-strung, just as crazy without being self-sanitizing and self-destructive and dead.

To be a different kind of role model for people out there so you don’t have to wear this particular costume and you don’t have to shoot back a particular drug, and you don’t have to be this crazy, and you don’t have to throw television sets from hotel windows and just go out and make art as opposed to pretending or showing us how crazy you really are and how frustrated you really are and that you need a place in life.

Terry, what do you think is your enduring legacy? You’ve written these great songs that will be remembered. Sometimes we won’t be remembered, but the songs will. You’re this great songwriter and singer.

According to whom? (Laughter) Well, that would make a nice tombstone thing. We’ll never forget what’s-his-name. My whole name for 45 years was “I would like you to meet Terry. He wrote ‘Cherish.’”  That was my whole name. I was telling somebody that about two months ago, at 75 years old, and I said, “Wait a minute, after all this time. I’m just going to shorten my name to Cherish.”

That song, I’m not even sure that I like it that much. (Laughter) I didn’t particularly like the music that we ended up doing. The music that I was writing, as I said, I didn’t want to have arguments with anybody about that. I am a natural-born civil rights activist from Kansas, and I was on the road with three guys who were really conservative reactionary people. I stood back thinking, “That’s cool. That’s completely fair.” You know, walk and talk, live your life but it’s not the art that I want to make. I want the art to be about something besides jumping in the back seat, kiss me. Doo-wop, doo-wop.

Many of your songs resonate to this day; For instance the aforementioned “Requiem to the Masses.”

Well, it was the B-side of “Never My Love.” About a dozen or so major markets flipped the record over.

Murray the K was playing Requiem, the number one disc jockey in New York, was asked not to play the record. He said, “You know, tell you what? Screw you.” He not only played the record about every hour on the hour, but he put live recordings of Wartime Horrors in front of it and on the back end of it. I never met Murray the K, but it was played every hour on the hour on the moratoriums in New York and Washington D.C. It was the song that preceded Daniel Ellsberg to the stage in fund-raisers for his Pentagon Papers.

Any last words?

Yeah, do good.

Amen, Brother.




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