The Greatest Bands Series: The Burdons

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 812   By: Robert 'Bo' White

02nd July, 2015     0

I first encountered The Burdon’s at the Fordney Hotel in December 1982. I was out with my brother-in-law just to have unwind over  few beers, we both had children that we adored and our wives seemed to understand. I was busy working at White’s Bar. My schedule was taxing -  50 to 60 hours, six to seven days a week, with at least one night shift. With that grind I simply forgot about music, didn’t pay any attention to the local scene and I wasn’t tuned into the latest trends or new wave bands that were punked up and rocking, keeping music alive.

But on this cold December night The Burdon’s awakened me from a frothy ennui, and reignited my love for real rock & roll. These dudes took no prisoners and they wrote their own songs and road tested those little chestnuts until they were ripe for the picking.  I recalled Go Steady (She does everything a good girl should), Heartbeat (Time won’t hurt you anymore) and Right Back To Me (you can tell by her clothes, she knows just where she’s goin’). Those original songs blended perfectly with their well-placed covers, from the Monkees hit song Last Train to Clarksville (an anti-war song hidden within the musical borders of Boyce and Hart) to My Bonnie (Beatle’s version). I was so out of touch that when the Burdon’s rocked hard on “What I like About You,” I thought it was their composition. When I finally heard the Romantics original version I knew the Burdons gave it more energy and more attitude. To this day I prefer Jim Davenport’s punked up sound blast.

It all started in Junior High School when Jim Davenport and his best friend Paul Schultz started jamming together, helping each other fingering chords and bending strings. Like so many other aspiring musicians, they were deeply inspired by the Beatles and other sixties icons. They were a quick copy and at age 15 they were working in local bars and developing that signature Burdon’s sound. Both were fine singers; Paul finding his voice and emulating his heroes John Lennon and John Fogerty. Scott Causley lived around the block and was a well-seasoned drummer with vice grip sense of rhythm and a jackhammer backbeat. By the time he met Jim and Paul, he was ready for a change and instinctively knew that something remarkable was about to occur. The key to the lock was Davenport’s older brother David, at the time he was living in San Diego where he recorded with a band called Streetlife. He then became a member of one of San Diego’s most acclaimed bands, Claude Coma and the I.V.s. They recorded an album called Art of Sin. It seemed as if they were on their way to a bright future. Instead the band broke up in 1982 and David came back to Michigan. The Burdon’s classic lineup was formed and continued to prosper through the eighties.

It was not always easy or safe. After a gig in Detroit, two gun-wielding bandits forced their way into the van, forced the band members into the rear of the vehicle and drove around the city, terrorizing the band and threatening to kill them. One of the men drove along Six-mile road while the other one crouched between the front seats, pointing the gun at the roadie Jeff Todd. The driver told the other one “just pop him.” They even stopped at a gas station, one got the gas, the other put a pillow over the gun and cautioned the band to look straight ahead. It ended after 30 minutes when the gunmen ordered them out of the van. All told the thieves made off with the van, the band’s clothes, $300 in cash and credit cards and over $15,000 in equipment. Despite all the hardship, the band performed with borrowed clothes and equipment the next night at Traxx, a great Detroit club. The show must go on and lessons were learned. Resilience was the clarion call.

The band did it the old fashioned way through relentless gigging and a Beatlesque camaraderie that sustained them even in their darkest hours. They took on venues big or small. At the height of their popularity they would transverse the state several times over They did gigs at Delta College Commons, Klumps in Harbor Beach, The Good Times Bar on Midland Street, Blue Water Inn in Sanilac, Brentwood in Caro, Casa Del Ray in Bay City, the Friendly Bar in Alpena as well as several other gigs in Mt Pleasant, Saginaw (The Banana Tree), Kalamazoo. The pay was pretty good ranging from $200 to $600 with a variance for an extended stay of three or so nights. It was good money at the time.

The Burdon’s eponymous titled album was released in 1984. The band worked hard in promoting the disc. Several stations that received the album in a limited random shipment added The Burdons to their playlists, over 50 radio stations got onboard to launch the disc including stations in New York, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

The reviews were all positive:  Chris Bentley from KTEQ opined, “This album is really going to move. Tim Hyde of station KUSF exclaimed, “Great album, Great band. John Cloud of KUOR said, “I just got off the phone with Brian at WLBS and told him all about it. I think it’s great!”  CMJ Futures, “They have a great knack for composition.”  U.S. Rock, “When they crank up a rockabilly rhythm and shout I wanna wanna go Steady with You.” It’s hard not to smile.

The Burdons were called “a national group just waiting to happen.” When Madonna turned down her key to the city from Bay City mayor Tim Sullivan, after going on NBC’s The Today Show and calling Bay City a ‘dirty, smelly little town’; Sullivan gave the key to The Burdons, telling the group they deserved it more than she did.

It seemed like a conscious dream drifting to an inevitable end, they will get the contract with a well-connected manager who knows the ropes. They will become the toppermost of the poppermost just like the Beatles. The Burdon’s daytime and nighttime dreams would allow this almost impossible wish to come true. It’s like dreaming they are smoking some incredible Columbian and waking up with a natural high.

They were so close to stardom. Maybe there was too much salt in the cookies and the promise lost its sheen. It seems to me that The Burdons needed to grow and change to become who they are today. It comes with a price that always involves some losing, leaving and letting go

So, what happened…

The Burdon’s Interview

When did you kind of discover that you really liked music?

Paul Schultz:  My first recollection of it, I’m still in the crib, and I remember the song. It was a song that was given to my dad for a birthday present and back in the day, we had the victrola in the living room. And they had me in the baby room, and the door was just cracked open a little bit. There was a party going on, and there were people. I guess I didn’t know what it was, you know. But there was a lot of activity, and it kept me awake. I keep hearing this song over and over and over, and it woke me, you know. I’m looking around in this kind of semi-lit room, and I could hear this song, “Singing The Blues,” over and over and over. I guess it was Guy Mitchell.  So that came out in 1956 and the next thing for me was The Beatles. I had nothing to compare the Beatles’ sound to, but I know when I heard the Beatles on AM radio, my sister’s radio there was something magnetic about that which scared me. I would literally hide. I could hear it, but I would hide from it. There was something about it.

What about you, Jim?

Jim Davenport: We had the old Zenith stereo two sections. One section was a turntable and a speaker, and the next section was just a speaker. I remember looking at the section with the turntable that had the tubes, and I used to stare into it and I would imagine I saw an orchestra. (Laughter) It was Harry Belafonte nonstop. I remember just staring at that. My dad and my mom, too, both enjoyed music so that was my very first recollection of just being fascinated with music. My dad played mandolin and my mother played harmonica and guitar, and I had a brother that was in a rock band back in 1964, ’65 called the Vibrations. They were pretty popular in the area.

I had music all around me, it was always there. I had a desire to learn it, to do it. One of my older brothers had a guitar. He didn’t really play very well, but I knew that you could turn the guitar into something that made music. The thing that really pushed me wasn’t anybody or an individual. I just wanted to have a band. I wanted to put on shows for everybody, and before I was 10 years old, I had my first band. We really didn’t do songs quite yet, but almost.  My buddy Gregg Billett was an original member. So Gregg and I would have a new name for a band every week and put a new show on, the only song we ever did was, “Hey, Joe.” I wanted to be an entertainer.

So what was your first professional band, the big band before the Burdons?

Jim Davenport: It was The Birds. I’ll tell you, this is how it happened. We entered a song-writing contest on WHNN. WHNN was in Bay City at that time on Tuscola Road and we had to get a tape in. Paul and I always wrote and recorded songs. He was the principle songwriter and he was really good at it. We would write at his house, in the basement that we had set up. He taught me how to do all this stuff. And we had reel-to-reel which helped us learn to write songs.

We had to get our demo tape in, that night to get it postmarked the next morning; otherwise we wouldn’t make it in time. I had Paul on the phone, I had the tape and I’m looking at my journals and I misspelled the word “Bird” several times. I would say things like, “I feel like I’m a burdon.” So that’s it, I wrote it down there and I put a dot in the middle of the “O.” We were going to tell people it was supposed to be an “E,” you know, but nobody ever asked. So that’s how we became The Burdons.

We’d go over to Garber Junior High and play during lunch hour for those kids. Bill was on the drums, and I’m playing the guitar on “Sister Golden Hair.” I remember that. People still come up to me today and tell me about that song. The lady that was in charge of the choir at Garber let us have our own space to bring our equipment in and practice. Every lunch hour, instead of going to lunch, we’d go in there and jam. I’m going to tell you what, though, if there ever was a mentor later on, that lady pushed us, and whenever there’s any kind of a show at Garber, she wanted us there. Her name is Pat Ankney. She helped us, pushed us man. She gave us the room at the school though we were never in choir or band.

Paul: I remember getting out of classes just because we were going to do a show, some show we had been involved in. We’d get out of class, and the teacher would say, “Yeah okay, go ahead.”  Between seventh grade and eighth grade, we were locked. We just kept going on and on and on. We would rehearse in the summertime at my parents’ house in the basement and record our stuff.

So, let’s get into the Burdons. Did you have a manager?

Jim:  No. We didn’t get one until the AT&N mini-album. It was Eric Burch. He came onboard when we won a song-writing radio contest. So we had an opportunity to record our songs. Eric Burch was the DJ that was coordinating all this. He hooked up with us. We partied, partied, partied. He did get us in this Christian studio to do the recording.

We had to re-record the song that won. So we got in there and I did bass and drums. Eric booked a couple of showcase gigs that he wanted the band to do, one was in Mt. Pleasant. It was an outside horseracing track at the Mt. Pleasant County Fairground. So we had a band. We needed a drummer because I was going to switch over to bass, so we auditioned drummers. Scott Causley was somebody that we always knew in the neighborhood. He was a couple of years older than us. We gave him a call to come over. Paul and I were in the basement getting ready and suddenly we hear the door open and Eric was falling down the stairs. He was the last guy we auditioned. We said, “Eric, you’ve got a sense of humor,” and everybody else was ready to go … with Gregg Billett and the three of us, we were like spark plugs going off, just like this (snapping sound).

Paul: We would build off each other, and so when Greg died, that was gone. Jim was going, “Do you think we should play the bass?” “Yeah, if you wanted to, you know. That means we’ve got to get a drummer.” “Yeah, okay.” So Scott came into the picture like that, and he was a spark plug. He was way more seasoned than us. He’s the one that really got us to really think about playing out because Jim and  I were pretty content just writing stuff in the basement, writing music and then once in a while go out and do something. We really didn’t want to go hard core to the bar scene, but Scott got into it and he said that we should play out more, so he got us thinking seriously about that. The premise was to make our songs better because we were doing all originals. We were a three-piece at this point

And then your brother Dave came in.

Jim: Yeah, he was out in San Diego making records and gigging quite a bit.  There was a lot of influence there for the band, and then Dave got into it.  He was more like a PR guy for us. He recorded for Delta Records. And he talked to Gary Gersh from Deppen Records, and we had Big Rock Records, that was ours.

So you had this label. It seemed like you and David were taking on the roles as a Manager in the band.

Jim: Actually both Dave and I were managing the band because we lived in the same house. Dave and I did all the phone work, lining everything up. And making sure all the dates were good and all that. It was a lot of work. We made an agreement between Fred Barrett and The Burdons for the sum of $300 a month for a period of three months if he Barrett agreed to the promotion. We met with him because we were trying to find somebody who could handle us. We wanted to get up to the next level. We were getting’ tired of it. I didn’t want to do it anymore because it was hard to please everyone. I was into girlfriends and it’s hard to please girlfriends, and when you got the barking in your ear, you need a manager to deal with this crap.

I’m not sure exactly how we hooked up with Fred Barrett, but we sat down with him and I guess we agreed to let him handle us. All he ever did was get our name put into the Detroit Free Press a couple times and then he’d tell us what to wear. I remember having at least two or three meetings with him and by the third meeting we were telling him he’s puking. We gave him albums to deliver to Camelot Music. This is Geffen Records, which is huge. I mean we’re talking ’85. We sent stuff out. We contacted departments everywhere. Invariably they’d say “Keep in touch. Keep us informed of all your new products.”  No one ever got in touch.

Paul: And before that stuff, Jim and I sent off tapes and Chrysalis Records were interested in us before The Burdons. Now they got paid. You know, we’re not PR people. That’s like Jim saying, “Let somebody else handle it. Yeah, and quite honestly the quality of the product that we were sending out was not…it wasn’t a finished product. It was just giving them an idea of what was coming at them. They would say, “Send us more.” Then nothing…it happened, it moved so quickly. We’re talking like ’79, ’80.

You were the songwriters. Can you talk about the creative process, how you worked on the songs, managed the harmonies, tempo etc?

Paul: Well for me, it was like any person writing or creating something. You have the music, maybe a couple of words, or maybe you have words, lyrics and some music, or maybe you have the whole thing. So you come into these practices, and so, “I was playing the guitar and got this little riff going, but I’m hung up on this part.” Then Jim would listen to it, and he’d come up with a part, and I think we were throwing stuff around like that. He’d come in with something and it needed a guitar phrase or it needed something added to it. That’s what really took place, if it needed a lyric, Jim would come up with it.

We were just shooting it back and forth. We didn’t get all hung up. If it didn’t fit, it didn’t fit. It’s like building something. If you put the wrong things together and it doesn’t work right or it doesn’t fit quite right, try again.

You were the lead guitarist. What did you cut with your leads? How did that go for you?

Paul: I’m not a lead guitarist, because I never really wanted to play lead. I like rhythm, but then I also like John Fogarty music, you know that kind of stuff. And so that just happened. I didn’t really plan to play lead, but it just happened. I’ve always felt that we needed a lead guitar player. We tried to get lead guitar players, but it didn’t pan out because our songs were somewhat of a nice, simple laid-out stuff, and these other guitar people would come in and they’d lay in some friggin’ triplets and just overkill the tune. Keep it simple and sweet or make it kind of a neat little, catchy tune… garage pop.

You had great hooks. Who sang the harmonies?

Paul: I think that all happened by accident and a lot of people wonder about that too because I don’t know how this just happened but the guitar that I was playing was two and a half step lower, E flat, okay? That’s a half step lower and the next thing you know, everybody’s singing together, all singing and harmonizing, building chords, so I left that idea alone. That’s where the Burdons played, a half-step down.

Jim: Yeah, that’s where we always played, it’s easier on the voice and its better. Now that we’re getting older, it’s really working out good.  David played. Dave would be on the black keys because back in the day you didn’t have the transposing button. Dave would play everything dep, dep, dep. It was all in flats and sharps and it happened by accident. We didn’t sit down and go, “Well, we need to get singing, get everything together.” It just happened. It happened because we loved to sing.  I wasn’t that good of a  singer. I mean, my brother, Dave, is a good singer, Paul’s a great singer. When we first started out, I sounded like a fog horn. Flat, flat, flat.  When we sang harmonies, Dave and Paul really held it down and Scott and I just voiced ourselves in.  Dave was trained like a choir boy building chords with his voice. When he came in he added more to it as far as the structure of the chord. Harmonizing fine-tuned it for us… it was just knowing. For us, Dave brought that in. We were doing it, but we didn’t really know the mechanics, the rules…“well, we can throw this note in there, it’ll add another little dimension to it.” We’d play these notes, and Dave would say, “Jim, you hit this one and Scott’s going to hit this one.”

I still have your debut album and totally like it. How were Sales?

Paul: I think, four thousand or so. We went to any private stores and anybody that had a store would carry it. Camelot or the chains were harder to break into. I don’t know if they ever got those albums. I’m not sure. We went through about 4,000 albums, and that was money, but who knows? We didn’t have a manager. We weren’t businessmen. So we probably made some money but then we had to spend it, to live on. You got to remember by now, The Burdons turned into a business. We became a legitimate, legal partnership in 1983. Now we went up a notch, see, when that became a business. Joe Bonk was our lawyer and he put that together. We even had to talk about when the band was done, who gets to use the name.

Jim:  We get robbed in Detroit. We don’t have any equipment left because they stole everything except for a guitar. Let’s get a loan to buy new equipment and make a record. So we were getting a loan. We had to form a partnership and get a tax ID because we had to claim our cars, houses, wives, kids. They’re on the friggin’ loan, so then we had expenses. We ended up with the Schools Employee Credit Union, now it’s Sunrise Credit Union. And mind you the interest rate was quite high back in those days, about 13%. That was pretty good, hey? So the money went to pay back the loan.

I bought the record when it came out for $12.93. What were your favorite songs? Was there a particular standout for you?

Paul:  There’s not a tune I didn’t like. What’s the one tune…“Going Away.” I thought, “Well, it’s not really finished, but it’s kind of a cool tune.”

Jim:  My favorite songs were “Good Times,” “Heartbeat.”

Did you start putting out a second album? Did you get to go back in the studio?

Jim: Yeah, we did. We hooked up with Henry Weck, the gentleman from Brownsville Station. He had a studio down in Ann Arbor, A Square Records. We went down there and started working on the next record.  We had everything in the can. The guy that financed it owned The Castaways in Bay City. Something happened in his family and he backed out. They’re sitting down there. We had to give those tapes back. We don’t own them. The studio owns them because nothing was ever paid. I don’t remember all those songs on here. We did a couple covers.

Did you tour?

Jim: Yes, it’d get real expensive. We just played a lot. That’s all we did. We were all over. We did Kalamazoo and over to the west side. I’ll have to look. We gigged down in Kentucky. We were in a tough spot getting  agencies to work together because when we planned this little tour our record would be out. This agency would book us and that agency would book us and another agency would book us, and then we’d have a gap. We would have a week to wait, and we’re going to starve to death. It was always hard to put everything together. Back in those days, it seemed like the agencies didn’t really like each other because it was a roadblock!

We’d always built in the cost. We got smarter as we got older. We’d ask for a PA so we didn’t have to drag ours. We want to be able to stay at a motel on your wallet, not ours.  Well back in those days nobody cared about where you stayed or how you were going to get back home or how you were going to get to the next night or whatever. I said, “Well, we can’t do that because, you know, it’ll kill us.” We ended up with places to stay, you know. “I’ll sleep in your car.” It was a great ride!

The Burdons continue to perform in and around mid-Michigan to a loyal fan base that fondly remembers the days and times of this incredible band. The Burdons created a musical tapestry of power pop and melodic punk, melding influences and daring to take chances with unpopular genres. Their tasty originals always promised a good time. They dared to sing covers like Last Train to Clarksville, The Letter, and I’m a Believer.

They took you home and made you like it!  Never kissing the Donkey’s ass…too often!





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