Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What is a Merrell Fankhauser? The most interesting cult figure in rock history

By Ray Shasho

After rock and roll erupted in the 50s, and before the British Invasion conquered America, surf music was the hippest sounds on the airwaves. It was the surf music genre that glorified reverberation and preserved the electric guitarist as the front-runner for rock music.
Guitarist Merrell Fankhauser was among those early 60s innovators of surf instrumental and culture. Fankhauser’s group The Impacts, were apparently the originators of “Wipe Out” one of the biggest hits in surf music history.
Fankhauser also helped define psychedelic folk music. His multifarious musical journey throughout the 60s and 70s generated the bands; Merrell And The Exiles, Fapardokly, Merrell And HMS Bounty, MU, Fankhauser/Cassidy Band and also an incredible solo career.
Fankhauser and Jeff Cotton (later Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band -guitarist) and Ed Cassidy (Spirit -drummer) collaborated in several bands together. Merrell also teamed up with the late John Cipollina(Quicksilver Messenger Service -guitarist) to record “Dr Fankhauser” which reached #1 on the French radio charts.
Legendary surf and cult folk-rocker Merrell Fankhauser is credited with over 300 published and released compositions. Considered to be one of the great lost folk-rock classics of the 60s, his ‘Fapardokly’ album has been sought-out for years by collectors and music aficionados. An original copy of the 1967 release could fetch up to $1000.
Besides surf, psychedelic folk, and rock … Fankhauser recorded several exceptional blues albums… ‘On The Blue Road’ with Ed Cassidy featuring John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band –multi-instrumentalist) and Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship, Hot Tuna –bass and keyboards) including a tribute to the late great Nicky Hopkins. ‘Stolen Guitar Blues’ by The Fankhauser/Cassidy Band features a tribute to Randy California (Spirit –guitarist/singer).
In 2001, Fankhauser began hosting a music show that airs in many parts of Hawaii, California, and the East Coast called “Tiki Lounge.” Merrell performs on the show with many legendary artists including Willie Nelson, Mary Ramsey of 10,000 Maniacs, Fito de la Parra of Canned Heat, and Ed Cassidy of Spirit.
His current band is called Merrell Fankhauser And Friends. The band has concert dates scheduled thru the summer in California. Also watch for a tribute CD set titled "Reach For The Sky" A Tribute to Sky Sunlight Saxon (lead singer from The Seeds).

I had the pleasure recently to chat with the multi-talented/guitarist/singer/songwriter/TV host/ Merrell Fankhauser.
Ray Shasho:Merrell, thank you so much for spending time with me today. You moved from Kentucky to California when you were 13. I married a Kentucky woman (pun intended) How much of a culture shock was that for you?
Merrell Fankhauser: “My dad started putting visions of California in our heads early on and after one of those cold snowy Kentucky winters, dad said, “We’re moving to sunny California!” I was around 12 years old and we moved to Lakewood a suburb of L.A., I looked at it like an adventure and adapted to California life fairly fast. It really wasn’t that much of a culture shock although I got teased a bit for my southern accent!”
Ray Shasho: How long did it take you to adapt and learn to surf?
Merrell
Fankhauser: “Dad was a flight instructor and charter pilot and we lived on a little airport in the southern California town of Lake Elsinore for about 4 years and then we moved north to the town of Arroyo Grande on the California central coast. This is where my love affair with the ocean began. I was always a good swimmer and by the summer of my 17th birthday… I was a pretty good surfer.”
Ray Shasho: I didn’t realize how many surf bands were around in the early 60’s.
Merrell Fankhauser: “I started playing with my band The Impacts when I was 17, the term 'Instrumental Surf' hadn’t been coined at that time. We did a mixture of 50's style rock and instrumentals by The Fireballs, The Champs and Duane Eddy. We were all impressed when The Ventures came along with "Walk Don’t Run." I had been writing instrumentals and being a surfer gave the songs surfing titles. There were two bands on the central coast besides ours that did instrumentals, 'The Revels' (Church Key & 'Comanche' from the movie Pulp Fiction) and The Sentinals (“Latin‘ia”). Much later we heard of The Challengers and later Dick Dale from Southern California… and that was it! Then later when the term 'Instrumental Surf' was coined, bands started popping up all over California doing this exciting reverb driven instrumental style of music. We never heard of any East coast or Midwest surf bands, but later the Astronauts came from Colorado with their song “Baja.””
Ray Shasho: It seemed like it was very competitive, how were the best surf bands selected to get national attention? 
Merrell
Fankhauser
: “Getting signed to a record deal back then was all just luck, and who happened to hear you!”
Ray Shasho: What artists influenced you into picking up the guitar?
Merrell Fankhauser:“I was first influenced by my dad to start playing the guitar and he showed me my first chords. Then I heard The Kingston Trio, Carl Perkins and The Fireballs. I loved the Fireballs song “Torquay,” and that really got me going in an instrumental vein. I wrote my first vocal "Too Many Heartbreaks" in 1961 but it didn’t get recorded till 1964.”
Ray Shasho: Did the Beatles ruin that whole Surfing culture scene?
Merrell Fankhauser
: “When The Beatles came along they not only knocked Instrumental Surf off the charts but also Folk, R&B, and the Motown stuff, it affected everybody. That’s when you saw a lot of U.S. groups adapting British styles and band names.” (FYI; Johnny Barbata drummer from The Sentinals went on to be the drummer in The Turtles with Marc Volman. Later, Johnny played with Jefferson Starship and then a short stint with Crosby Stills and Nash).”
Ray Shasho: It seems everyone I’ve interviewed who grew up in Southern California was obsessed with surfing. It really was a way of life wasn’t it?
Merrell
Fankhauser
: “Yes the surfer lifestyle was present everywhere, not just southern Calif. but all the way from San Francisco down the coast to Mexico. We used to laugh at guys living way out in the Desert driving around with surfboards on their cars, and they never went surfing as the ocean was 150 miles or more away!”
“The surfing scene was a special time when everyone was physically fit with tan bodies, and everybody wanted a California blonde surfer girl! It was a healthy lifestyle and drugs hadn’t really come into play, although some got into drinking a little too much beer. Surfing and drag racing was the thing to do!”
Ray Shasho: Talk about the true origin of “Wipeout.”
Merrell Fankhauser: I was surfing at Pismo Beach one day… the waves were small and I was just sitting on my board day dreaming when a big wave was building behind me. It took me over the falls and mashed me into the sand pretty good. When I came up coughing and spitting out sand a guy on the beach was laughing and shouting "Ha Ha Ha… You sure got Wiped Out!" He made sure all the pretty girls lying on the beach heard him as he pointed at me! It was the summer of 1962 and I had written a song called “Kick Out” a year before and decided to change the title to “Wipe Out!””
“We recorded The Impacts "Wipe Out" album in September of 1962 and it came out on Del Fi Records in November of 62. Later the producer called us back in the studio in January of 1963 to re record my song “Wipe Out” for a 45 single. He changed the arrangement to have a drum solo every verse instead of the one solo our original had. Drummer, producer, and publisher Richard Delvy who went on to work with The Surfaris, was in our session and listened very carefully to all our recordings. The Surfaris also recorded one of our songs "Blue Surf," and somehow Delvy ended up owning the rights to “Wipe Out.” We never got a recording contract or any royalties till 1994 when Del Fi went back into business. Delvy ripped off The Surfaris when he sold two of their songs to Dot Records, then went in the studio with his band The Challengers and recorded the rest of the songs for the Surfaris album, and then passed them off as being played by The Surfaris!”
“This kinda stuff was rampant during the Surf music explosion, there were more sharks in the music business then there were in the sea!  Producers and publishers stole songs from young musicians and the records would come out with no songwriting credits! My “Wipe Out” version was copyrighted and listed in ASCAP by Anthony Music publishing in 1962 and released nearly 9 months before the Surfaris. Unfortunately our second version was never released as a single. My lead guitar part is very similar but buried in the mix, and our chord progression fit the Surfaris version like a blueprint! A coincidence...?”
Ray Shasho: The ‘Fapardokly’ album is awesome. “Mr. Clock” and “Tomorrow’s Girl” are my favorite tunes. What’s the origin of the title on that great LP?
Merrell Fankhauser: “In the later part of 1967, I moved from the high desert area of Lancaster, California where I'd been living for about 4 years and got a regular gig back in Pismo Beach at a club called ‘The Cove.’ It was in the height of the Psychedelic scene and I decided we needed a more 'far out' sounding band name. I dropped ‘Merrell And The Exiles,’ sat down with a pen, and took the first few letters of the last name of the current band members, FA- Fankhauser, PAR- Parrish, DO - Dodd, DKLY - Dick Lee, and came up with ‘Fapardokly!’”
Ray Shasho: Why didn’t Merrell And The Exiles get more commercial airplay?
Merrell Fankhauser: “Merrell And The Exiles where discovered at the beginning of 1964 by Glenn Records, a small label in the nearby desert town of Palmdale California. In our first session we recorded my very first original vocal song written back in 1961 called “Too Many Heartbreaks.” The flip side was a new song "Please Be Mine." Glenn Records had 50 or so radio contacts across the country and only one small distributor in L.A. With no budget for promotion, the singles would only get limited airplay and sell a few thousand copies and then disappear. We did a lot of recording in Glenn's dessert studio and five singles were released from 1964 to 67. There were enough songs on the shelf for two albums, and in late 1967 Glenn randomly took a dozen songs from different time periods and put out the 'Fapardokly album.”
“Little did we know that later the album would become one of the most sought after and valuable albums of the 60's with a sealed copy going for $1000! The album is now world famous. My 1967 song “Tomorrows Girl” from the album would go on to be featured in the 2010 Grammy nominated Rhino Records box set ‘Where The Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965 - 1968.’ The rest of Merrell And The Exiles recordings later came out in the 90's on Vinyl and CD as Merrell And The Exiles "The Early Years, Wild In The Desert."
Ray Shasho: Do you think (3) different band startups in less than 10 years may have hurt your chances for establishing huge commercial success? 
Merrell Fankhauser: “I do think changing the names of each band hurt the chances for commercial success. You would put the entire PR into a band name and just as the band was making some smoke, key members would leave the group. Merrell And The Exiles had many changes in the lineup, several members going to Captain Beefhearts Magic Band. My friend Harry Nilsson gave me some advice to just use my name as the band name, that way if band members quit it didn’t matter and you didn’t lose the PR! When I signed with Uni / Shamley Records in 1968, I was surprised that the president of the company Russ Regan liked my last name 'Fankhauser' (Swiss origin) and even had bumper stickers made up saying “What is a Merrell Fankhauser?” with a phone number to call. I started using Merrell Fankhauser for my releases in the mid 70's after the breakup of my band "MU." I continue to use my name on my recordings and "Merrell Fankhauser And Friends" for my live band.”
Ray Shasho: Merrell, talk about playing music around the west coast psychedelic music scene?
Merrell Fankhauser: “I moved down to Hollywood in 1968 with my band who by then had changed names from "Fapardokly" to "H.M.S. Bounty," a suggestion from one of our producers at the time. We were friends with and played on the same bill with bands like ‘The Seeds,’ ‘Canned Heat,’ ‘C.T.A.’ and many others. I was living in the suburbs of L.A. in Woodland Hills and Captain Beefheart had also moved there from Lancaster. I would occasionally go over and jam with him and the band, which comprised two of my old Exiles members. We had a lot of fun playing at concerts in the L.A. area with wild psychedelic light shows. H.M.S. Bounty upstaged a well known band at San Fernando College and the audience insisted we go back on after the headline band quit! We rocked out on a Psychedelic jam for at least 30 minutes with the audience dancing and playing beats on metal folding chairs!”
Ray Shasho: Who were some other artists you collaborated with?
Merrell Fankhauser: “I became friends with drummer Ed Cassidy in 1990 when I was doing the satellite TV show ‘California Music.’ Cass and I hit it off right away and decided to do some gigs and recording together as Spirit wasn’t doing much at the time. We did several memorable live performances including one on the set of the movie 'Grumpy Old Men 2.’ Cass got a kick out of meeting Walter Matthau and jack Lemmon.”
Ray Shasho: Talk about the album, ‘On The Blue Road’ by The Fankhauser Cassidy Band.
Love the blues guitar licks and vocals on the recording.
Merrell Fankhauser: “The Fankhauser Cassidy band went into the studio in 1994 and our first album ‘On The Blue Road’ was released on D Town Records in 1995. It was a Blues Rock style and was even nominated for a Blues award. It got substantial airplay around the globe and good sales. It was later released as a double CD and record set with our second album as 'Further On Up The Road’ on the Comet / Akarma label from Italy. Cass is also playing on my song "Two Guys From The 60's" that will be released in June on a tribute CD set titled "Reach For The Sky" A Tribute to Sky Sunlight Saxon (lead singer from The Seeds) on Global Recording Artists San Francisco label.”
Ray Shasho: Merrell, are there recent collaborations, new releases, or upcoming concert tours you’d like to mention?
Merrell Fankhauser: “I’ve done 3 volumes of solo Instrumental Surf CD's titled "Rockin And Surfin" and I am now working on volume 4. I have a spacey instrumental CD coming out in June also on Gonzo Records titled "Area 51 Suite." And I'm just finishing up a solo album for my son titled, Sunny Tim Fankhauser "I’ve got The Right To Sing The Blues," Ed Cassidy plays on it and "The Revels" and my current band Merrell Fankhauser And Friends." Gonzo Multimedia just released Merrell Fankhauser "The Best Of" 2 CD set with songs from 1964 to now, and two volumes of my current TV show ‘Tiki Lounge’ on DVD with a bonus audio CD in each volume. I am currently putting together two more volumes of Tiki Lounge for DVD release. I’ve been doing the show for 11 years now and it airs 3 times a week on the entire California central coast and Hawaii. We have concerts scheduled thru the summer in California.”
Ray Shasho: Thank you very much Merrell for spending time with me today, and for all your musical innovations throughout the years.
Merrell Fankhauser: “Thanks Ray!”

Merrell Fankhauser official website www.merrellfankhauser.com
Purchase Merrell Fankhauser’s music at www.amazon.com/Merrell-Fankhauser/e/B000APYQO6
Purchase Merrell Fankhauser 'Best Of Tiki Lounge' DVDs: www.gonzomultimedia.co.uk/product_details/15360

Special thanks to the great Billy James of Glass Onyon PR for this interview.
Official website http://glassonyonpublicity.wordpress.com/

Contact author/columnist Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com

Download Ray’s exciting new memoir ‘Check the Gs’ The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business on Kindle or Nook at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com for only .99 cents!
Ray Shasho is open and honest in his depiction of his family and their business practices. He describes the closeness of family members and the dissension that ultimately led to the original family store being sold and transformed into one and then two stores. As the story progresses, Shasho offers firsthand accounts of the D.C. riots following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, the murder of John F. Kennedy, and meeting celebrities like Muhammad Ali, Chuck Norris, and Sugar Ray Leonard.  After seven years of running one of the businesses himself, Shasho closed the last family store and walked away with a full appreciation for what he had learned from the work: “Over the years, the business taught me to be many things—a salesman, an entrepreneur, a diplomat, an actor, and a clown. But more important, it taught me to be a man… (274). Check the Gs is a delightful, heartwarming portrayal of an American family that lived the dream in their own animated, humorous and bazaar way -Melissa Brown Levine for Independent Professional Book Reviewers.

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