Something Else! Interview: Larry Tamblyn of garage-rock pioneers the Standells

Lovers, buggers, thieves, the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts, and frustrated women that have to be in by 12 o’clock. That’s the gist of “Dirty Water,” a song recorded by the Standells that reached the No. 11 spot on the national charts in the summer of 1966 and eternally remains a certified garage rock classic.

Although the Los Angeles, California, band never again scored a hit single as big as “Dirty Water,” they continued producing great music and were highly visible for the next couple of years. The group cut four studio albums, Dirty Water, Why Pick On Me/Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White, Hot Ones! and Try It for the Tower label, each containing sackloads of gnarly nuggets and ranking as some of the coolest sounds of the decade.

Steeped in the bluesy hard-rocking vein of bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Troggs, and the Pretty Things, the Standells struck a righteously rebellious pose. Characterized by stirring snarls oozing with attitude, driving keyboards, crunchy guitars, powered harmonies, and brawny drumming, the band was tight, centered, and brimming with natural enthusiasm.

Standells reunions have been staged here and there, but these past few months has seen the band performing and touring like crazy to promote their new album, Bump, which marks their first full-length release since 1967. Maintaining the edge and essence that awarded the Standells attention and applause to begin with, combined with a fresh approach, the disc is balanced by a fine choice of covers and original material. Brash, blunt, melodically memorable, and splashed with socially aware musings, Bump is relevant on every level.

Keyboardist, singer, and songwriter Larry Tamblyn, who founded the Standells in 1962, has always been passionate about the group, and rock and roll in general, and is clearly thrilled to be back in his element. And so are his many fans, including me, of course!

BEVERLY PATERSON: The Standells have certainly been busy lately, with not only a new album, but you just returned from a national tour, as well. And this is all great news! Let’s begin by talking about the album Bump, which marks your first collection of new material in forty-plus years. How did you go about picking what songs to include on the record? And how did the Standells go about getting signed to Global Recording Artists?
LARRY TAMBLYN: Karl Anderson of GRA was recommended to us was by a mutual friend. At the time, we didn’t have any recorded material, so Karl agreed to take us on sight unseen. We then decided we could only make a Standells album in a garage, so we converted a garage into a recording studio, where were wrote and recorded the album. We wanted the album to be completely self-contained. We promised the fans that no suits would be allowed — and they weren’t. I produced and engineered the album, but all of the guys greatly contributed.

BEVERLY PATERSON: Will the Standells be recording another album soon? I hope so!
LARRY TAMBLYN: Well, originally our long-range goal was to record a new album, one that would sound pretty much as the Standells would sound today. I believe we’ve accomplished that. At least that’s what many music critics have said. Our goal was also to do a major tour in the USA. We’ve now accomplished that, as well. We actually recorded a new live album at the Mayne Stage in Chicago, consisting of both old and new songs. We hope to have it released this year.

BEVERLY PATERSON: Where did your tour take you and are there any plans in the near future to hit the road again?
LARRY TAMBLYN: After doing so many large concerts in music festivals like the Adams St. Fair and the Ponderosa Stomp, we really wanted to connect to our fans in much more intimate environments. So our agent put together a very long and grinding tour, beginning in North Carolina, and taking us to Washington DC, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Colorado and Nevada, an 18-city tour. It was both exhilarating and exhausting, forcing us to go from city to city, and getting by sometimes on less that two hour sleep, and in many cases living on junk food — at best. We drove the entire distance in a bus. During the day, I did numerous telephone radio and print interviews, while in route to each gig. In Boston, I was interviewed on Dirty Water TV, who also did some footage of our concert there. In Chicago, we were special guests on the Mancow morning TV show for 2½ hours. Both times, we got no sleep the night before. Along the way, we got to meet many terrific fans, who drove miles to see us.

BEVERLY PATERSON: Do your shows consist of a set-list or is each gig different?
LARRY TAMBLYN: The reason for our tour was basically to introduce the new album. So we did both old and new songs. Amazingly, we had many old fans that told us they absolutely loved the new songs.

BEVERLY PATERSON: What kind of keyboard are you playing these days?
LARRY TAMBLYN: I play a Yamaha Motif XS6. It’s an amazing instrument. I’ve been able to program all of the original Vox sounds onto it, plus I am able to add in a Hammond B3 and horn effects when I need them. The Standells early recordings used a lot of these different instruments. The neat thing about this keyboard is that when backline is supplied, I simply ask for the same keyboard, then use a USB thumb drive to program all of the my personal settings into it.

BEVERLY PATERSON: Any particular highlights on this tour? Or do you have any funny or interesting stories to share?
LARRY TAMBLYN: After one show in Denver, Colorado, I was signing a jacket of a rather shy young woman. She reached over as if to hug me, and instead laid a huge kiss on me. I was completely floored!
A high school alumna came to see us in one show. This was amazing because we went to John Francis Polytechnic High School in the San Fernando Valley.

BEVERLY PATERSON: The Standells have staged a few reunions over the years, but is there anything specific that allows this aggregation to be different than what has gone before?
LARRY TAMBLYN: I am working with a lineup who are all friends and get along very well together. We pay a lot of attention to performing the hits as accurately as we can, very close to the way they were recorded. The guys in the group are all anxious to work and keep performing. I did not experience this with several of the original members.

BEVERLY PATERSON: You need not be told the Standells transcend generations, but what exactly are the demographics of your audience these days? I can imagine most people attending the shows probably weren’t even born during the heyday of the Standells!
LARRY TAMBLYN: We have played to audiences of all ages. This seems even more so when we perform in other countries. On our tour to Europe in 2010, there was always a large contingent of twenty-somethings in our audience. We expect more of the same when we perform in Parma Italy at the Festival Beat on July 5. The American audiences tend to be about half-and-half.

BEVERLY PATERSON: Speaking of transcending generations, the Standells have rightfully been cited as a major influence on many bands and are regularly referred to as godfathers of both garage rock and punk rock. Do you keep up on the current garage rock scene, and if so what are some of your favorite bands?
LARRY TAMBLYN: Not really. I’m sorry, but aside from Green Day there just aren’t many that I follow or can identify with. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some good groups out there, it’s just that I don’t have a lot of personal time to devote to band-watching. This one young group the Vaccines, do “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” during their performances. One young writer from Bloomberg said “and next they did (SGGDWW) and gave it a garage rock feel.” When she learned who the Standells were, from some of our irate fans, she said the Standells “ARE garage rock.” It does seem that there is quite a disconnect with many younger USA music fans.

BEVERLY PATERSON: Songs such as “Dirty Water,” “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” “Why Pick On Me,” “Riot On Sunset Strip,” and “Try It” have been discussed countless times before, so I’m going to toss some obscure tracks your way to get your comments, insights, or memories about either recording them or basically just your thoughts about them. Some of these songs were not released at the time they were recorded but, thankfully, the Sundazed label reissued them when they put out your albums some years ago.
LARRY TAMBLYN: Actually, back in the early ‘80s I believe Rhino Records was the first to do this. They came up with many of these previously unreleased songs in The Standells Rarities album.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “The Boy Next Door”
LARRY TAMBLYN: A perfect example of the Standells not doing material that was really meant for them. It was written by Sonny Bono, and Cher also sung some of the background vocals. This song was more ‘blue-eyed soul’ than Standells material.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “Someday You’ll Cry”
LARRY TAMBLYN: A great song that kind of snuck through all of the other garbage which was being produced for us at the time. As I remember, we were recording the theme song for “Zebra in the Kitchen” under a special arrangement with MGM Records. They wanted to release this as a 45 single, so they needed a flip side. “Someday You’ll Cry” was written by me, and had been rejected by producers at Liberty Records and VeeJay Records. MGM asked me if I had something they could use as a flip side to Zebra, and I came up with “Someday You’ll Cry.” They let us do the song exactly they way we wanted to do it, and the result is obvious.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “Medication”
LARRY TAMBLYN: This song was presented to us while we were recording the Dirty Water album in Seattle. We really liked it, and put together kind of a psychedelic arrangement. We still do this song in concert today.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “There’s A Storm Comin'”
LARRY TAMBLYN: Kind of a soul song. Another song presented to us in Seattle. [Departed drummer] Dick [Dodd] and I sing harmony lead on it. I could picture this song with a big brass section in it.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “Poor Man’s Prison”
LARRY TAMBLYN: I have absolutely no recollection of this song.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “The Girl And The Moon”
LARRY TAMBLYN: A song that I wrote and sang. I would describe it as a ballad. I got the inspiration from being on a walk one evening, and spotting what I thought was a lonely girl on a hill, right in front of a full moon. I climbed up to her and discovered it wasn’t a her at all; only an old log — which fooled the hell out of me.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “The Boy Who Is Lost”
LARRY TAMBLYN: Although Ed Cobb is given writer’s credits, I actually wrote this song and sang it. Most of the songs sung by me I also wrote. It was recorded and sat on the shelf for years until Rhino Records got hold of it. If it had been a hit of any kind, I probably would have fought for legal rights to it.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “All Fall Down”
LARRY TAMBLYN: Written by present member John Fleck. It’s an anti-war song, and has always had a huge following.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “Did You Ever Get The Feeling”
LARRY TAMBLYN: I know it was on the Try It album. It’s a great song, but I don’t recall much about it.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “Trip To Paradise”
LARRY TAMBLYN: A different sound for the Standells, with strings, etc. I really like it. We actually heard it one time on the radio when stereo FM was just beginning to emerge. We were on tour in our van, and were blown away.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “Poor Shell Of A Man”
LARRY TAMBLYN: Written and sung by Dick, who also played 12-string guitar on it. To be honest, I think he could have used so help on the lyrics — but that’s just my opinion.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “Get Away From Here”
LARRY TAMBLYN: An interesting story to this one. It was originally written with different lyrics and title — “Riot on Sunset Strip.” I didn’t know it, but [bassist] John [Fleck] and [guitarist] Tony [Valentino] were also working on another title song for the movie. When I heard their version, I re-wrote mine. It was never released as part of a Standells album, other than being part of the Riot on Sunset Strip soundtrack. The mix-down for it was done without our presence, and the idiots left out two of the tracks. The best way to hear it is by watching the movie.

BEVERLY PATERSON: “Can You Dig It”
LARRY TAMBLYN: No recollection at all. I wonder if this wasn’t really just Dick Dodd and some other musicians.

BEVERLY PATERSON: Have you ever considered recording a solo album?
LARRY TAMBLYN: My tastes in music vary from garage rock. I’ve also done musical score work, and dabbled in jazz. I may sit down one day a put together something that is non-Standellish.

BEVERLY PATERSON: How about writing your memoirs?
LARRY TAMBLYN: I’ve been thinking about it. I have lots of fun stories and recollections about things that happened to us on tours, etc.

BEVERLY PATERSON: If you were given the chance to collaborate with any musician or musician, who would you choose?
LARRY TAMBLYN: Probably Paul McCartney. In my humble opinion, he is one of the best! I’ve always been a fan of his.

BEVERLY PATERSON: What are some of the high points of being in the Standells? Any regrets?
LARRY TAMBLYN: Of course, there are many high points of being part of the Standells. We shared lots of adventures, had many strange and wonderful things happen to us. I always look at the past as the past so, no, I have no regrets. One of the biggest high points for me was when we performed at Game 2 of the 2004 World Series. I remember that I was sitting in my office. It was a very boring day, and suddenly I get a call from the Red Sox: “How would you like to perform at the World Series tomorrow?” I said, “Is this a joke?” The woman verified who she was and we immediately started making arrangements, including a fee. The following day, 20 hours later, we were on the plane headed for Boston. When we were announced and walked on stage before a crowd of 50,000-plus, cheering wildly for the Standells, I almost had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. One low point for me was in 1968, when the Standells were to perform at my alma mater. We were at our manager’s office, and received a letter from Dick Dodd saying that he was quitting the group — so impersonal, and so cold. He couldn’t tell us in person. I was completely devastated, more so in having to cancel the show at my old high school. Perhaps the lowest point for me was the passing of Dick last year. We butted heads many times over the years and, after a brief reunion last year, discovered we just couldn’t work together. But how do you know someone that long, tour with him, share many adventures together, and not love him like a brother? I will miss him. I also regret that for at least twenty years, other than producing some children’s record albums I dropped out of the rock music business altogether.

BEVERLY PATERSON: I know the answer to this myself, but I always like to hear what the person making the music says — What is it about the Standells that sets them apart from other bands?
LARRY TAMBLYN: That’s a difficult one because, back in the ‘60s, I didn’t think we were any different than other bands. However, in retrospect I realize that we had our own unique style, and really spoke to the middle class. We identified with the problems they had in just trying to better their lives, and not being judged by their appearance, demographics or ethnicity. I’ve had many people who’ve written to me to tell me how much our songs have meant to them. On tour recently, one guy told me that “Mr. Nobody” inspired him. He said that his father used the song to teach him that he was somebody. He proceeded to tell me how it changed his life. Two songs in our new album, “It’s all About the Money” and “Mr. One Percent,” both deal with the growing disparity between the rich and poor. Many old fans have told us that they love the new songs on our album. They are touched in the same way that our old songs touched them.

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 on the national charts with "Stand By Me" - which is ironically one of her favorite songs, especially the version by John Lennon. She has also contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as associate editor of Rock Beat International. Paterson's own publications have included Inside Out, and Twist And Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.