Gary ‘Roscoe’ Murphy discusses Leviathan, a lost Elektra album and the chances they’ll reunite in a Something Else! Sitdown with Steve Elliott …
STEVE ELLIOTT: What’s it been like to have Leviathan’s 1969 self-titled Elektra album finally released after all of these years?
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: Well firstly, Record Collector Magazine released the vinyl version with superb artwork as a limited edition of just 750 copies in 2012. These surprisingly sold out pretty quickly. That was 43 years after we laid down the original tracks, and we had all but given up hope of seeing any form of release! Over the years, it was evident that people were aware of these recordings, and that they wanted to hear them. The gamble paid off, and all of us were more than happy with the finished item. As well as the band, people were beginning to ask if a CD version would follow. In 2011, Cherry Red put out a CD album on the Grapefruit label of Mike Stuart Span material, which included all four single A&B sides as well as, lots of demo material – of which there were early versions of tracks that would be later re-recorded for the Elektra label. Then in 2016, Grapefruit felt there was sufficient interest in the band’s Elektra recordings to proceed with a Leviathan CD release. The initial pressing of 1,000 copies sold out in weeks, and a further pressing was duly produced. It is still currently selling well worldwide, and we have had over 20 excellent and very positive reviews. The band was more than happy with the vinyl and now ecstatic that the CD has come to fruition.
STEVE ELLIOTT: What’s your take on the different album cover for the 2012 LP of the album for Record Collector magazine? Was this the original design?
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: Regarding the “Unleashed” album, there was no previous sleeve artwork planned by Elektra, as the project had not gotten that far – so we have no idea what they might have come up with.
The only thing that existed was the whale logo, which was featured on some of the original press photos and publicity posters, also the Harrods press-pack plus the Dutch release of “Remember the Times,” which featured a picture sleeve. Record Collector Magazine and their team came up with the excellent artwork, once the title had been finalized. Stuart and myself were heavily involved with the front cover design and gave the final approval, once we were entirely satisfied. We never saw the inner sleeve and back cover artwork until the album was finally released and were totally blown away by the whole package. The laser etching design on Side 4 was a total surprise and the cherry on the cake. Each side having its own different label was another nice touch, and it was obvious that a lot of time and thought had gone into the design.
STEVE ELLIOTT: Grapefruit Records have done a beautiful job.
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: Yes, indeed. As always, detailed liner notes and well researched info from David Wells. The cover is superb, especially that wash of rainbow colors over an original black and white Elektra press photo of the period. Very cool!
STEVE ELLIOTT: What’s your understanding as to why the album wasn’t released by Elektra back in 1969?
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: We thought we had done an excellent job in originally laying down just nine tracks, and these were sent across to Jac Holzman. Jac wasn’t so enthusiastic and, whilst he liked some of the tracks, felt we could do better. This took us all aback, and we were extremely disappointed with the decision. Funding was also a problem, as we had already spent many hours in the studio, and the two singles released simultaneously as a special press pack under the title The Four Faces of Leviathan at the launch in London’s Harrods store were not translating into sales. We did however re-record a shorter version of “Flames” that was more punchier as our third and final single. Coupled with a change of style on the flipside with “Just Forget Tomorrow,” that was our very last recording. It received little airplay, and again made very poor sales. This resulted in the album being shelved, the gigs dried up, and Brian decided he could do better working as a builder, and we all went our separate ways.
STEVE ELLIOTT: If I am not mistaken, the only songs released from the album prior to its proposed release was the superb first single “Remember the Times,” and two other singles – “Flames” and “The War Machine.” “Remember the Times” has, to me, always sounded like a Top 40 hit single. It’s a fantastic, dynamic song that stays with you long after you’ve heard it.
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: It’s probably the most instantly commercial of all the songs and gets played the most. If it wasn’t so ’60s sounding, it might just do better now than in ’69!
STEVE ELLIOTT: Were the majority of songs recorded for the Leviathan album brand new, with the exception of one or two of the Mike Stuart Span numbers which you guys brought along? For example, the album version of “Through the Looking Glass” sounds fantastic here.
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: Actually, apart from “Evil Woman,” “The War Machine” and “Just Forget Tomorrow,” we had previously recorded all of the other titles as Mike Stuart Span demos. Obviously, the Elektra recordings are far superior, and the arrangements had changed by this time.
STEVE ELLIOTT: What was the group’s launch as Leviathan like, performing at Harrods department store?
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: A strange place to play at, as it was basically a small cafe area. I think we may have been the first to perform there. There was no audience as such, people just drifted in curious to see what was happening! I certainly can’t remember what we played but, for sure, we would have featured tracks from what we anticipated would be our forthcoming album such as “Remember the Times,” “Second Production,” “Flames,” “Time,” etc. – but definitely not “The War Machine.” That was never played live – too complex!
STEVE ELLIOTT: Do you think in retrospect that it was better to have split up then in 1969 or should you have persevered a little more with the recording sessions? I know it’s hard to speculate, but it seemed like such a shame.
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: I guess this was the last of many disappointments where we felt we were on the verge of something special. We had previously starred in a BBC documentary, played all the top London Clubs, had several single releases, but despite this and all the publicity we could not break through to the big time. So, this, for us, was really the last straw. We had tried everything and failed. The planets were just not in alignment for us. We were at an all-time low, and felt we just couldn’t go on.
STEVE ELLIOTT: “The War Machine” seemed a little bit ahead of the pack in terms of its direct anti-war message, versus some of the other anti-war songs released before 1969 like Eric Burdon and the Animals’ “Sky Pilot.” Your song was also recorded a year before Black Sabbath would release “War Pigs.” Yet your song’s message hasn’t dated and is still relevant today.
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: Yes, agreed, people often comment on this. I’ve often thought it would make a great film soundtrack. Maybe someone will read this interview and reconsider.
STEVE ELLIOTT: “Evil Woman” really gave you guys some room to stretch out on a song which is probably best known as having been recorded earlier by Spooky Tooth.
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: At the time of recording this track, we were not aware of Spooky Tooth’s version. In 1968, Stuart got hold of an acetate copy by the original artist and composer Larry Weiss, and thought it was a good song that would suit our style. Incidentally, this is the only track on the album that was recorded live with no overdubs.
STEVE ELLIOTT: “Time” is my personal favorite song of yours. For this album, it sounded like you re-recorded it, as I noticed some extra guitar flourishes. The version that’s my personal favorite is the BBC Radio recorded version, but any version is great.
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: This is such a simple song and arrangement that started life as a Span song. We’ve recorded it at least three times; my personal favorite is actually the Elektra one, as it has some extra snare drum overdubs plus some nice acoustic guitar phrases from Brian. Originally, I wrote only two verses, but it was deemed too short and Stuart came up with a third – something I would never have written! I’ve subsequently written a third verse. One day, I’ll get around to recording it:
When politicians realize
They don’t own the earth and skies
They could do so much more
Take time to help the poor
And stop the ravages of war
If we only had more time
They say that time is on our side
Another thousand men have died already
STEVE ELLIOTT: Has there been any talk about the possibility of a special one-off reunion concert to celebrate the release of the Leviathan album? You guys should do it.
GARY ‘ROSCOE’ MURPHY: Highly unlikely. Dream on!
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