Of The People, By The People and For The People – The Uncommon Story of The Common People
In 1969, a relatively unknown quintet from Baldwin Park, California came to the attention of Tim Hudson, then-manager of The Seeds and Lollipop Shoppe. Hudson liked what he heard and negotiated an album deal with Capitol Records. He then proceeded to line up none other than legendary arranger David Axelrod and the cream of LA session men and headed into the studio to produce the band’s debut. Sources have suggested that Axelrod arranged the album’s first three tracks, which have been cited by his enthusiasts as among his very best. However, as you will shortly discover, Axelrod’s wife was involved in a car accident, forcing him to withdraw from the sessions before he had a chance to work on any arrangements, so the band (singer/songwriter Joel “Denny” Robinett, his brother Gerald on drums, keyboardist William Fausto, guitarist John Bartley III and bassist Michael McCarthy) completed the LP without him.
Sadly, Capitol apparently decided to sit on the album, which, as far as Denny recalls, “was never available for sale in any stores,” making it one of the great lost artifacts of the 60s, languishing in obscurity until its recent reissue on Fallout. (The album may have been released in England, and the Australian label Ascension recently reissued the disk on CD, but the definitive Fallout edition is the only one to include both sides of their two pre-LP singles.) Another tragic accident took Gerald’s life just after the album was completed, and the remaining band members scattered to the winds and were never heard from again. Until now! Jeff Penczak’s recent review of the reissue was spotted by Fausto’s daughter, Valerie. She contacted her dad, who got in touch with Jeff, and brought Robinett into the conversation. Obviously, this was an opportunity we couldn’t squander, as we here at Terrascope Towers pride ourselves in tracking down the principals of long, lost bands and giving them a platform to air their story. What follows is an exclusive interview with Fausto and Robinett. A great big hug and kiss goes out to Valerie Markuson for bringing us together with her dad. Thanks, Valerie! And thanks to Bill and Denny for taking the time to sift through the canyons of their collective memories to finally bring us the complete story of The Common People.
Why don’t we begin with how and when the band formed? Had any of you played in bands before and how did you first meet? Sources suggest that you came together in either Baldwin Park or Fontana, California. Fact or fiction?
DENNY: I was playing the guitar with my
friend John Bartley and we decided to start a band. We started playing
music in the garage of my parents house in 1964 we wanted to play in a
battle of the bands competition in high school, so we all started
practicing. At the time we had another drummer who ended up quitting, and
my brother Gerald just jumped on the drums and started playing. Then Mike
McCarthy joined the band after the bass player quit. And soon after Bill
joined the band through another friend named John Osita. None of us had
ever played in another band before. So, a few of us were friends already
and then met through friends of friends. And yes, the start of our band and
popularity of our band all began on Center St in Baldwin Park, CA.
BILL: John had told me about a band who needed a keyboard player, and he had told them about me. I didn’t know any of the guys in the band and was hesitant to try out for the spot, but my friend John said, what could it hurt? So I went to Denny’s home to try out. Denny and the guys were in the back room that had been changed from a two-car garage into a room. Denny asked me to put some chords into what he was playing, so I did. He liked it, and asked if I’d like to be a member of the band ? I said sure! And that was the beginning of The Common People!
We started playing in battle of the bands contests at high schools in our area. We did quite well in those contests. I mean, we all were still teenagers and to me it was pretty cool playing keyboards in one of the most popular bands in the San Gabriel Valley!
At the time I was playing baseball in Los Angeles, and was going to try and make a career playing baseball. I was playing gigs with the band and playing baseball in the LA league at the same time. I finally had to choose which one I wanted to pursue and I eventually chose music. Plus, I was getting married also to my high school sweetheart, Nancy Poland. She was 15 and I was 18 at the time, and we were expecting our first child Valerie, born on Valentine’s Day. I now have five wonderful children: Val, Maile, William junior, Betty and Eliana, and 9 grandchildren: Jessica, Ruben, D.J. Jasmine, Leah, Reina, Jason, Joseph, and Jeramie. Gosh, who would have guessed! Not me! [Laughs!]
The back room where we wrote all of our songs had really wild parties. We had designed the room with egg cartons and built a stage in the corner of the garage. We put black lights throughout the room and everyone who knew would come by and put their own designs on the walls. Man, you should have seen it! Especially if you had taken a hit of Orange Sunshine, Blue Barrels or Purple Haze! We called the room, ‘COMMON LAND.’ When you walked in, it was like walking into an Undescribable Universe, it was just Awesome!!
I understand some Hell’s Angels used to hang around your practices?
DENNY: Yes, very true. They would hear
our music on Friday nights and come over and hang out with us. I really
enjoyed my bike, a 52 Pan head Harley…8-inch extended double Springer, 21
inch alloy wheels. I didn’t ride with the Hell’s Angels but had a lot of
respect for them and them for us. All of our friends supported us except
with maybe a few exceptions. Even the police liked our music! They just
didn’t want us to smoke pot (which came from the crowd). The neighbors also
came over to listen / watch and never called the police. I was pulled over
one time just to get an album. Our lifestyle the whole time was all about
the music, and bikes were just a part of it.
BILL: They were occasionally at our gigs and always at our parties at Common Land. Some of them lived a few blocks from Common Land and they were always showing up at our place when we were practicing! It used to blow my mind to see all their Hogs parked in a perfect row in front of Denny’s house and especially my mom’s house, bless her heart! But I’d like to make it perfectly clear that none of us were members of that club at any time!
The current reissue of your album includes both sides of your two Flodavieur singles. Were they recorded with the same line-up? When and where were they recorded?
DENNY: Yes, they were all recorded with the same line up of band members in 1965 on Pico Blvd in central LA in a house. Dave Polk got us together and I sure would love to get a hold of him because I never received a copy of those singles. I have no record of them.
BILL: I seem to recall recording at
someone’s house where they had a converted studio in one of the rooms.
Tell us a little about Flodavieur and how you came to be involved with them? Do you know any other artists who recorded for them?
BILL: No, I never met anyone else that were recording for them. We recorded for them thru our then-manager David Polk. Him and his brother were the ones who got the singles played on XERB radio station. Dave had a lot of our tapes, which we were unable to retrieve after we changed managers. The singles were part of those tapes that he had in his possession. I would never have known about these tapes … if your review about them had not brought them to our attention!
Do you know if the singles sold anywhere outside of your local neighborhood or your circle of friends and relatives?
DENNY: I’m not sure, but they were played on the radio through Wolfman Jack back in the day and as for recently, we are trying to figure out if our record is selling well in London and Australia. We found out online that the original album is going for $350.00 much to our surprise!
BILL: As far as I know, the singles never went on the market. They did get airplay though on the XERB radio station in L.A. Wolfman Jack used to play them every chance he got. I think we should have released ‘Why Must I Be’ and ‘Take from You,’ which we recorded later!
[Note: The Flodavieur label was owned by Polk, an LA DJ. It was mostly known for its soul releases. Both Common People 45s (the only garage tracks on the label) are extremely rare and have been reported to be changing hands for in excess of $500! – JP]
The singles seem to be more in an aggressive, garagey style, particularly the second one, ‘Look Around,’ which reminded me a little of what Sky Saxon was doing with The Seeds.
DENNY: ‘Look Around’ was recorded before
Sky Saxon came on the scene. ‘Look Around’ was an intense song. It was
written in the days when I was riding with a nine-shot 25 “looking around”
dodging bullets and cars.
Do you think that perhaps it’s that rough, driving Seeds’-style that attracted Hudson to your material, seeing as he was managing them at the time?
DENNY: I think he was attracted to our music because of the potential for good symphony orchestration. I think he wanted to make an American Moody Blues-style band.
Eventually, you landed some gigs at clubs on L.A.’s Sunset Strip. Was it a very competitive music scene at the time – difficult to get gigs?
BILL: Getting gigs was never a problem, it was being too picky about which ones we took and which ones we didn’t! As far as I can recall, we were never paid for any gigs that we did!! The only time I was ever paid was from Capitol Records for the recording session! We had a lot of offers, but we didn’t do them, for one reason or another!
DENNY: We played at Moon Fire and even
the Devonshire Down concert after Jimi Hendrix. It was competitive but gigs
were readily available to us.
How did these gigs come about? Did you have a manager or were you self-promoting yourself through your singles?
DENNY: Tim Hudson helped out with the gigs and Wolfman Jack played our singles on the radio, which also helped.
Can you tell us some of the places you played, who you shared stages with, and what the audience’s reaction to your music was?
BILL: We played numerous times at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, CA. Some of the groups we opened for were The Iron Butterfly, The Seeds, Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys. We also played for Joey Bishop’s son’s bar mitzvah and numerous gigs all over L.A. We also had some gigs in Las Vegas, Nevada. I might add that our singles were being played on the radio there as well.
I would say the reaction from the audiences were mixed. Dave had us playing in mostly Latino and some African-American areas. I was really surprised at the reaction of those audiences as our music wasn’t really suited for those places! Usually, the audience would just stare at us, sort of wondering if they should dance or stand still and try to figure out weather they liked our music or not. I remember one night the audience was just frozen as we played our first two numbers. Everyone had this stoic expression on their faces. Then we played “Why Must I Be,” and everyone started jumping up and down and they started to dance. I looked over at Gerald the drummer and we were both smiling ear to ear and you could feel the electricity in the air! It was a good feeling!
DENNY: We also played in long robes at
the Moon Fire as part of a protest for the Vietnam War.
Yes, tell me more about that. I read that you occasionally took to wearing long white robes and carrying Biblical staffs on stage. Listening to the album, I’m not sure I hear a connection between your lyrics and music and such an elaborate stage presentation.
DENNY: They wanted us to wear robes at Moon Fire and we liked them….so we kept wearing them. I always believed in God, so the bible was fine with me. We wrote songs like ‘Land of the Day,’ ‘Soon There’ll Be Thunder’ and ‘Take From You’ all pretty much inspired from reading the bible. I would be happy to point all of those similitudes out to you. As a side note, World Countdown [a hip, LA underground music paper] had an article released about us and our white robes around this time, also.
Were there other songs in your earlier repertoire that didn’t make it onto the album?
DENNY: We recorded about 45 songs and it was left up to Tim Hudson to hand pick the songs he wanted on the album.
What was the music in your early sets like – all originals, or were you throwing in some covers as well?
BOTH: They were all originals!
How did you meet Tim Hudson, who was also managing The Seeds and Lollipop Shoppe at the time? Did he come to one of your gigs?
DENNY: While we were auditioning at a church for the Pasadena Civic, we met Gene Dewalt and he introduced us to Tim Hudson and from there we went to Gold Star Records and recorded about 40 songs and then on to Capital Records.
BILL: The first time I met Tim was at his house for an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.
Did Hudson ever officially become your manager, or did he just negotiate your deal with Capitol? Also, do you recall the terms of the deal; e.g., was it just for the one-off album or was there an option for more depending on sales?
DENNY: Yes, Tim was our manager and negotiator and we had a $75,000 contract for three albums over 7 years.
Tim was able to land the cream of the LA session crop to perform on your sessions. How comfortable were you working with all these sessions guys?
DENNY: I wrote all the ghost charts and Sid Sharp, the leader of the symphony orchestra just played according to what was written. Tim would yell through the loud speaker, “That sounds good…that’s what I want.” Tim was also the one that wanted to put the orchestration in, so we went with it.
Was it overwhelming for a bunch of bikers to be rubbing elbows with these classically trained musicians, a few of whom were even members of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra?
DENNY: There was no real problem. We
pretty much laid all our tracks down before they even came in. They were
there to aid us with horns, special effects and symphony orchestration.
Hudson was also able to bring in David Axelrod to score your material. Did you work with him on the arrangements or was that mostly his doing?
DENNY: David Axlerod never had the opportunity to arrange any of our music. His wife was involved in a car accident the day we were recording and we only saw him briefly from time to time.
Just so I understand, are you saying that Axelrod did not actually arrange the three tracks historically credited to him? This is definitely a major revelation!
DENNY: Yes, I am saying that Axelrod never arranged those songs! Sid Sharp arranged the symphony parts on these tracks to the best of my memory and best of my knowledge. I wrote and arranged those songs along with the entire album with the help of my brother, Gerald (with the exception of the Tim Hudson additions). David had no time, he just may have approved it at the end.
It’s also been suggested that both the orchestra and Sharp (who had previously worked on ‘Pet Sounds’) performed the arrangements without any charts. Does that sound correct according to your recollection?
DENNY: He had my ghost charts, but he
arranged the symphony melody on his own.
Were you familiar with anything that Axelrod had done before and were you amenable to working with him or was there a sense that he was taking your compositions and turning them into something completely different from what you heard in your head when you were composing them?
DENNY: We had the composition already
done. It sounded close to what was in my head. We could have done without
“He Didn’t Even Go To The Funeral” even though it was kind of fun recording
it. We also could have done without the yelling in some of the songs.
Did you have most of the album composed before you entered the studio or was there a lot of last minute writing during the sessions?
DENNY: Yes, we had composed and rehearsed what we wanted to record. However, some of the last minute writing was due to Tim Hudson and his song and the screaming I referred to earlier.
I liked your keyboard work on the three opening tracks; it’s very warm and melancholic and perfectly suited to the lyrics. Did you create any of your melody lines or arrangements or were they already there in Denny’s compositions?
BILL: During the time that we had put those songs together, a friend of mine was killed right in front of me. I think the keyboard reflected my sadness in those tracks, [because] he was a very close friend of mine!
DENNY: Bill and I naturally came
together on the melodies and as Bill said during that time, he was hurting
due to the death of a friend.
DENNY: It made no difference to us
musically. We did not know any better, as he hadn’t been able to
significantly contribute yet. It was very sad and I do remember feeling
very bad for him and his wife. In the end though we all stuck together and
everyone remained on board.
I understand that Capitol got nervous once Axelrod left. Can you elaborate on your relationship with the label at this point. Did the money dry up and were you forced to rush through the rest of the sessions (as suggested in the reissue’s liner notes)? Was Hudson still around to run interference or were you pretty much on your own?
BILL: Tim did the best that he could, what with David Axelrod taking off and us being rushed for time. As I recall, he was a nervous wreck! [Laughs]
DENNY: If our relationship with the
label changed we did not know it at this time. As far as the money goes, we
were definitely rushed in the recording sessions. We hung in there and
finished, though. Tim was still there helping out.
DENNY: He directed the horns and some of the screaming in the songs and his song ‘He Didn’t Even Go To The Funeral.’ To my recollection, he did help to engineer and mix and that’s about it.
BILL: I wasn’t there during the mixing. I wish I had been, because I don’t think they did a very good job on the mixing, but again, that’s only my humble opinion.
Could you elaborate on this? Anything specific jump out at you that you were disappointed with.
BILL: I think the mixing of the instruments were off in a lot of the songs!
Listening to the [Fallout] CD reissue – does it seem that the tracks have been remastered or remixed or does it sound just like the record?
BILL: No, I can't say that any were remixed.
Is the sound on the CD any better than the original vinyl sound?
BILL: I'd say, the CD version is a little better then the vinyl version.
Hudson’s composition that opens side two, ‘They Don’t Even Go To The Funeral,’ seems oddly out of place in its surroundings. It sort of sounds like an attempt to weld ‘Yellow Submarine,’ which he name checks in his lyrics, to the insanity of The Mothers of Invention or the Bonzo Dog Band. Was that track forced upon you, or did you actually enjoy recording it?
BILL: It was mostly Tim’s idea. He wanted the song to be about the Beatles, who didn’t go to Brian Epstein’s funeral. We did have a lot of fun doing it though! It relieved a lot of the pressure that was being put on us during the recording session. Time was a factor!
DENNY: “Forced upon us” is a very good
way to put it. We had no choice. Even to this day, my sons who hear this
ask, “Dad, what’s this…?”
DENNY: I did like those bands, and that’s why I was open to the horn influence; however, it was an attempt by Tim Hudson to get the less popular songs more commercialized.
William, I hear a very distinct Doors influence in your keyboard work on ‘Land Of A Day.’ Was Manzarek an influence, particularly coming from the same LA scene? Had you ever run into them during your days on the Strip?
Yes, I’d have to say that Manzarek did
influence my playing on the keyboard! But, sadly, no, we never did do any
gigs with them, although that would have been really cool!
Were any singles released from the album? I thought that perhaps the funky little pop number ‘Why Must I Be’ might have done pretty well if released as a 45.
BILL: None, but you read my mind! [Laughs]
DENNY: No singles from the album were
released. Yeah, ‘Why Must I Be’ may have done well, but I guess we’ll never
know. My youngest son Jason says there is a section in that song about 37
seconds in that he can see Austin Powers swinging to. Anyways, with our
knowledge now, I wish we could have done things differently.
Denny, were there any other tracks written or performed live at this time that didn’t make it onto the album or was this pretty much everything that you wrote?
Yes, I wrote many songs that never made the album. Out of around 40 songs, Tim Hudson had the choice to decide which songs ended up on the album and which ones didn’t.
What happened to the rest of the songs? Do you still have the tapes?
As for those other 30 songs, I am afraid they are gone, unless Capital has them somewhere.
I understand the album didn’t sell well at all. Is that true, and do you have any feelings as to why that was?
BILL: Capitol failed to promote the album!
DENNY: We never released it or even promoted it. Sadly, we were never even able to tour to support our album.
I’m not sure I understand when you say the album was never released?
DENNY: What I meant by not being released was that there was no release date from Capital Records and the album itself was never available for sale in any stores. There was no promotion of the record whatsoever and we weren’t able to tour. To my knowledge, it’s almost as if it was just shelved. Here in the US through the last couple of months we’ve been searching online, and it seems as though it may have been released in London, but we are still looking into that.
What about those albums you mentioned earlier – that time you were pulled over by the cops and asked for an album?
The police thing was because I was given 10 free albums. And I know that there were several organizations that said it was released (like Billboard), but I remember NOT being able to buy the album in stores anywhere with no answers from Capital. Tim actually had to take some of his copies of the album to a place in Hollywood. So I just thought it was never really released like it was supposed to be.
What happened to the band after the album was completed?
BILL: Gerald drowned in San Francisco Bay while trying to save his father-in-law from drowning. He had suffered a heart attack while they were sailing in a two-man sailboat. He fell overboard and Gerald dove in the water to try and save him. Sadly, Gerald was not a strong swimmer, and they both drowned together. It was a major blow to all of us and was a strong factor in the band breaking up, [as] this happened right when the album was being released!
DENNY: The album was never released and we just kept hoping things would go well for us, but then my brother Gerald died in a boating accident when he was only 22, and for me that was just devastating. With all the setbacks with everything and then this tragedy, we just kind of dissolved.
Did you decide at that point that you would disband rather than continuing with a different drummer?
DENNY: For me at the time a different
drummer was not even a consideration.
What have you been up to for the last 40 years?
BILL: After the band broke up, I moved to Hawaii in 1970 (with my three-year-old daughter Valerie) just to get away from the drugs and fast-paced life I had been living the past few years while playing with the band. I started a carpet cleaning business, which I sold in 1978 and moved back to California and went to work in the oil refinery business. After a major explosion at Mobil Oil Refinery in Torrance, CA., in which I was injured, I moved back to Hawaii and been living here for about 19 years.
DENNY: Well, in a nutshell, I raised a
family, started a construction company and continued to record and produce
songs. I never re-signed with another label but always wanted to. My
oldest son Joel, Jr. is very musically talented and has 3 albums out right
now in the Christian genre. I wrote many more songs and recorded them solo,
songs like ‘Rainbow,’ ‘Crusader,’ ‘Damn It Women.’ ‘Cry Cry Complain’
actually got some radio time and ‘You’re Still There,’ also. I have never
ever been able to stop writing and playing and recording music and I don’t
think I ever will.
Were those songs ever released?
‘Cry Cry Complain’ and ‘You’re Still There’ I recorded in 1979. I paid for a 45 (credited as Joel Robinett and a Band of Gold) and sent it to a radio station myself and the DJ’s that liked them played them, however I can’t recall which radio stations played those songs. A lot of bars in Huntington Beach, CA played it on the juke-box.
What’s up with the band these days?
BILL: We have been out of touch with each other since the early 70's. Then, last summer, many of my old friends had a reunion – without me knowing anything about it – and my daughters, Maile and Valerie took me to a BBQ at my childhood friend, Kenny Routh’s home in Fontana, California. I hadn't seen him in many years and he said there would be a couple of other old friends there as well.
I was totally caught unaware when someone answered the door whom I didn't recognize. And then all these guys come to the door who I hadn't seen in years and start asking me if I know who this guy is standing in front of me? I had no idea, and said, “I give up! Who is he?” Then everyone is laughing hysterically and finally tell me "It's Denny"!!!! OH MY GOSH!!! I didn't know what to say! I was so caught off guard, I kinda got a knot in my throat and gave him the biggest bear hug I could muster, as Denny is, like, over 6 feet tall and about 270 pounds, and I'm only 5'10” and 220. Anyway, it was one of the most wonderful times of my life!! It had been some 37 years since we had laid eyes on each other! Wow! Where did the years go?
Ever get the urge to plug in and give it another go?
BILL: Who’s to say? During the time we were together at the party in Fontana, we all reminisced about those glory days! Denny also told me that John Bartley had passed away last year sometime, and we think that Mike is living somewhere in Hollywood. But, we also had talked about getting together in the studio again…. Like I said, who knows! How old are McCartney and Jagger???
DENNY: All the time, but I think its just a fool’s hope. We got back together that one occasion that Bill spoke about, but that’s about it.
I read in a blog somewhere online that someone said they were in the studio with you back in March and that you were working on a new album?
DENNY: Yes, I am recording, but for an album? I wish! It’s just music I wanted to record for some time now.
Any final words?
BILL: I'd like to say I'm very surprised that anyone would be interested in wanting to know about us. We weren't that big a deal. Maybe we could have been, if we had stuck it out after Gerald's untimely death, who knows? Anyway, thank you, Jeff, for your kind words about our music and our band. I also would like to thank all of our crew who helped in setting up our equipment, protecting us…. [Laughs], and also for just being our friends. And our greatest fans, Danny, Mark, John, Jim, Ellis, Steve, and, of course, our wives and ex-wives: Marlene, Nancy, Darla, and Laura, thank you ladies for putting up with our sh-- through the years! But most of all, Thank You GOD for Your Grace!!!, because without it, I believe a lot of us wouldn't be here today. THANK YOU JESUS!! Peace!
DENNY: I just wanted to say thank you very much for giving Bill and I an opportunity to reminisce about the old days and our music. It means a lot to us and also to our families.
The Common People Discography
‘Look Around’ c/w ‘Dawn of My Life’ (Flodavieur 801, 1967)
‘Oh My My’ c/w ‘Days On My Mind’ (Flodavieur 802, 1967)
‘of the people/by the people/for the people from’ – The Common People (Capitol ST 266, 1969)
Reissue – (Ascension [Australia] – ANCD 022 – Deleted!)
Reissue – (Fallout FO 2001CD, 2006) (Note: Includes both sides of the Flodavieur 45s as bonus tracks.)