Wednesday, 20 February 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Merrell Fankhauser interview (Part One)

I have been wanting to interview Merrell Fankhauser for months, but - as is so often the case - events conspired against us. However, I managed to catch up with him about half an hour before he left the house to go to a very important gig...

JON: So tell me, what’s the gig you are playing tonight?

MERRELL: The gig I’m playing tonight is with my old friend Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean and his Surf City All Stars band, and he has a person now who kind of resembles his old partner, Jan Berry, and sings like him so they do the double lead harmony and they have a really nice band that they’ve had for quite  few years and since they’re in my locale tonight they’ve asked me to join them on songs and I’m shooting it for Tiki Lounge.  I’ve got my crew coming over there to shoot it also, so I’m doing Wipe Out, and Barbara Ann and Fun, Fun, Fun, and some things like that with them.

JON: That’s fantastic, I wish I was there.  I love Jan and Dean.

MERRELL: Yeah they were great, because a lot of people don’t realise this, Jon.  They were before the Beach Boys, and the Beach Boys kinda copied them, and then after a while they even employed Dean to sing some of the high parts on some of the records ‘cos he kind of invented that trade mark “oooeeeeeoooo” thing, you know. And he was friends with them – with all the Beach Boys – and they kind of did gigs together but they were actually the original band after the instrumental surf sound that coined the vocal surf sound.

JON: Was it Jan that sang the lead vocal of Barbara Ann on the Beach Boys version?

MERRELL: Exactly, and they kind of traded off back and forth, but it was mostly Jan and Dean helping the Beach Boys

JON: Well you were there at the beginning of the whole surf thing weren’t you?

MERRELL: Yeah.  I got to back them, I think it was about the end of ’62 or ’63 somewhere around there. They came up and they didn’t have a backing band for Pismo Beach where I played in the Rose Garden Ballroom about 200 miles from LA, and they came up for this gig without a backing band and so The Impacts backed them up back then. So I got to meet them and back them way back then and then Dean and I got back together when I was doing the Return to Mu  project which I was producing with Bill Mceuen. And we started on that in about 1992 and Dean came in and sang a lot of the harmonies with me on that and then we got together again in 2000 when I was in Hawaii doing a steady gig for about 4 months and he came over and performed with me there. So this will be kind of a reunion too because we haven’t seen each other for about 11 years now.  And I’m going to go over after I’ve done this interview with you, in a few hours and load the equipment in and we’re going to do a sound check.  I wish you were here for this, but I’ll send you a DVD of the Tiki Lounge video show,  and it will probably be posted on YouTube because the station that I am on in Michigan now – they’ve asked me for permission to post my shows that they air back there and they just posted the one which is the tribute I did on Ed Cassidy and Randy California “Experience” .

JON: I’m going to be posting a link to that sometime this week. Can you tell me about the Rainbow Bridge video?

MERRELL: As you know I lived on Maui for 14 years and I moved there in ‘73 just a year after the Jimi Hendrix Rainbow Bridge came out. And when I moved there I met a lot of people that were in the movies, and a lot of them were hippies, surfers and cosmic people that were seeing UFOs and everything, and they said Jimi was really into the whole UFO thing, and that there were even some hovering about when they were shooting over there. So we contacted the ones that we still knew where they were over there and we went over and interviewed them and it was really interesting what some of them had to say about hanging out with Hendrix and everything and then we went down to Southern California, because some of them lived down there, and we interviewed a few of those so we’ve got some really interesting interviews with, I think, an insight into some of the things that were going on with that movie with Hendrix hasn’t come out. In the original Rainbow Bridge if you saw it, it follows Pat Hartley the actress from the Sunset Strip over to O’ahu and then to Maui where she meets all these characters, and ultimately Jimi.  And the message because of all of her travels and the way it was put together kind of got lost a little bit in the different scenes and things and I talked to one of the guys from Warner Brothers who was in on the editing and he said that when they brought the film over it was in all of these bags and there was sand in it and they were almost afraid to put it on their machine, and had to clean it all and they kept going through this stuff and it was just a lot of hippies talking about cosmic stuff and getting high on drugs, and everybody kept saying “Where’s Jimi, where’s Jimi?  Where’s the concert?” You know they were afraid they weren’t going to have enough to make the movie really good, but finally they got to the movie part.  So what we did, we kind of condensed these interviews down and we would segue into some really great surfing on big waves over there, because a lot of the people that were interviewed were surfers and we have old footage of them surfing, and then we cut to surfing footage from now, and I have about ten of my newer instrumental surf songs in there with the surfing, and then it would go to a couple of band performances – there were two Maui bands that we have over there: Omar and the Wavestop Spies and The Space Patrol, who actually – the lead singer – Les Potts was in the original Rainbow Bridge movie and he’s the guy that’s shown cutting up this surf board that they smuggled some hashish I think it was to the island, and he takes a big toke and coughs his lungs out, and that’s in the movie.

JON: I have to admit, when I saw the movie it was many, many years ago and I was very stoned at the time,  and the only bits I remember were a few UFO talks and the guy coughing his lungs up.

MERRELL: Yeah well that was Les and you’ll see him then and now what he looks like and that was the interesting thing, Jon, some of these guys looked like full-on wild cosmic hippies and very young back then, and now when we photograph them, they’re all – of course – grey-haired old guys – some of them now have short hair and they look like they could be insurance salesmen or whatever… <laughs>

And this is where we leave it for today. We'll be back with Part Two, tomorrow.


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