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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Late 1970s Hamilton music scene; Simon Leblovic interviews Gary Pig Gold

After finding Simon's recollections of his Rocking Horse days and his early music influences, it was a joy tonight to come across this interview with Gary Pig, where the two gents discuss such great local acts as Interchange, The Specs, Dave Rave Conspiracy, The Loved Ones, Simply Saucer, and Next Big Thing.

By Simon Leblovic

In the words of the late, great Jackie Gleason, "How sweet it is!" I want to tell you about Gary Pig Gold, who I last saw in Toronto in the winter of 1988. I first met Gary in Port Credit, Ontario in 1975, and I remember him then as a lighthearted guy who loved 60's pop music. Gary knows so much about music and is such a talented writer, I thought it was high time that someone wrote something about him. Here then is a "pinch of piggy."

In early 1976 I was living in an old, dilapidated band house on Margaret St. in Hamilton, Ontario. The house had formerly been inhabited by The Wild Ones motorcycle gang. The Wild Ones would visit sometimes, acting as if the house still belonged to them by doing things like carving their initials in the kitchen table. I shared this rented house with the other members of a five-piece band from Burlington called Interchange. Interchange was one of my first bands, and I sang with them from 1975-76. I got kicked out of the band and left the house in 1976. Later on I learned that Gary was now living in that same house on Margaret St., where he was working with Interchange. He continued to live and work there with the band after they became the frisky pop quartet known as The Specs.

In 1977 I was singing in a Hamilton band called The Loved Ones. I took The Loved Ones name from a novel by Evelyn Waugh, which was later made into a movie. Following the demise of The Specs, Gary ended up playing bass in The Loved Ones. We played a show at the Hamilton YMCA in the fall of 1977, opening for a band called Simply Saucer. The Loved Ones broke up immediately after that show, but Gary went on to produce some of Simply Saucer's music.

In 1978 I put my first Toronto band together, called The Hits, with a bass player named Paul O'Connell. In the fall of 1978 Gary began playing drums with the band, and we changed our name back to The Loved Ones. I remember Gary showing his vocal skills by patiently trying to teach me the harmony parts to the songs Lets Spend the Night Together and Mother's Little Helper by the Stones. Back then, singing harmonies for me was like diving into a swimming pool with my eyes closed. But for Gary, singing harmonies was a piece of cake.

My second and last time playing with Gary on stage was with that version of The Loved Ones in Toronto. We played three nights at the Beverly Tavern on Queen St. West during New Year's of 1978-79. I remember Gary playing the drums, wearing blue hockey gloves. I also recall Martin Goodman coming to the Beverly Tavern shows. Shortly after the Beverly gig I ended up leaving the band. But three of us from that version of The Loved Ones reformed later in 1979 as the band Rocking Horse. But this band did not include Gary, who went on later to resurrect The Loved Ones name for his own purposes.

During the 1980s I ran into Gary in Toronto from time to time, and that's when he began giving me copies of his Pig Paper. Later on he generously mailed me copies of the Pig Paper, along with music cassettes and articles. Through the years Gary always kept me informed about his latest doings. He recently went hog-wild answering my interview questions about his illustrious career and his own sweet self. Gary can't resist sticking his snout in a sweet trough!

An Interview with Gary Pig Gold by Simon - Sept. 2005

1. Where does the name Pig Gold come from?

Way back when I was a budding young Martin Scorsese in high school, a mockumentary I made about my hometown of Port Credit, Ontario, Canada won an award at a local film festival, and was then chosen to be shown on the PBS television station in nearby Buffalo, New York. However, due to some of its, um, controversial segments, before allowing my 16mm epic to be broadcast, their legal department suggested I indemnify both myself and the TV station by crediting the film to a fictitious production company instead. Come the very morning my film teacher had arranged for us to re-shoot the opening credits, when I still hadn't come up with a new name for myself, a little plastic stamper fell out of my Wheaties cereal box with a pig on it. Voila! "Pig Productions" was born.

Then, a few years later, my friend John and I decided to write and print up a satiric programme for a Who concert in Toronto, and then distribute it outside the venue the night of the show. Again, there was some, yep, questionable content in our little mag, so I again covered my legal ass with the nom de plume "Gary Pig," and John became, yes you guessed it, "Johnny Pig!"

That Who Pig Paper became such a little success (even Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey got copies!) that we did another one the next year when The Kinks played town (Dave Davies especially loved our Kinky Pig Paper!) Lo and behold, soon local bands were approaching us to review THEIR shows and records, and so The Pig Paper became a monthly (if we were lucky) periodical for the next several years. And those years, roughly 1977 thru 1980, were the peak years in the birth of the global Do-It-Yourself indie rock movement. So you see, with Gary Pig, I already had my punk name in operation!!

By the way: that little pig stamper from the Wheaties box? I still have it, and it remains my official operational logo to this day.

2. When did you first become interested in music and what does music mean to you now?

My dad was a semi-professional big band drummist back in the Forties (he'd wait with his drumsticks backstage whenever Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw would come to town, hoping to sit in!) and my mother remains a key member of the Mississauga Chorale Society to this day (some years, she gigs more often than I do!) So my childhood was surrounded by music. I even learned to print and draw at a very young age by copying the labels off old Bing Crosby 78's! Music remains my lifestream, as it always has. And most likely always will.

3. Can you tell me some of the highlights of your illustrious life and career?

Struggling to remain on stage (without soiling my bright white Miami Vice pants!) when a severe case of the runs struck me during an important very-high-profile encore with the Endless Summer band. Watching an EXTREMELY pissed (as in thoroughly sauced) P. F. Sloan struggle to jam on his song, "Eve Of Destruction" with the Dave Rave Conspiracy at a big industry showcase we were playing in New York City. Singing harmonies with the late, very great Del Shannon at one of the last big outdoor festivals he ever performed. TRYING to sing harmonies on a cover of J. Lennon's "I'm So Tired" at a recording session with Andrew Loog Oldham on a rainy Sunday afternoon in none other than Hoboken, New Jersey! (This town reminds me of Dublin, ALO said).

4. What was your official job title and what were your functions in the frisky band known as The Specs in Hamilton in 1976-77?

Other than help those guys pay a quarter of the rent by freezing in the attic of their condemned house, you mean?? I guess I started out as roadie, graduated to sound and lightman, and even got to be the manager sometimes, whenever dirty work arose that nobody else wanted to deal with, that is! MOST of my quality time was spent listening to records with rhythmic guitarist Roy Furness though. And THEN there was that fateful night when YOU burst into our kitchen, after having just witnessed the very first Ramones show in Canada!!

5. What is the title of your story about the Specs, and where can that story be found now?

That story has never, ever been told. But if it ever is, I'd definitely call it "I Gave Up University For THIS?!!"

6. Tell me us some things that you especially would like to have mentioned in your story?

Just the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing BUT The Truth ..Whenever possible, that is.

7. When and why did you leave Canada and move to the States?

Like most things in my life, such a big move was never really planned or thought out: What with growing up on American television and especially American Top Forty radio, I guess it was only a matter of time before I jumped the Pine Curtain, as Stompin' Tom Connors might say. At first, I'd just sneak over the border to Buffalo to buy records when I should've been at school. Then I'd go visit my pal David who'd enrolled in art school in Brooklyn, when I should've been at work. Then a three-week exploratory visit to Surf City, USA with Roy Furness in 1979 lead me to return there for what turned out to be three whole years! I almost toured Australia with Jan and Dean once too, but alas I didn't have my passport. So I stayed in L.A. and put the California version of The Loved Ones together instead. For quite a good while there, we were the absolute scourge of the Orange County house party scene (parents out of town in Vegas for the weekend? Let's buy a keg or three, print up loads of flyers, pay off the cops and put on a show right there in the living room at ten bucks (U.S.) a head!!)

8. Do you prefer living in Canada or in the States and why?

I haven't really noticed the difference, or even thought about it! I just do what I do, regardless of where I happen to be living at any particular time. But I will tell you this: Even though I LOVE being able to order in Thai food at four in the morning in the City that Never Sleeps, I still keep all of my records safely at home in Oh Canada. There's a moral here somewhere, I think.

9. Can you tell us some of the major differences between living in the States and living in Canada?.

Other than the all-important after-hours Thai food factor? Not a hell of a lot, at least so far as I'm concerned.

10. Please tell your fans your favourite:

colour(s) -
Swimming pool blue and a bright rich gold (see? I could've been Gary Pig Blue maybe!!)

pop artists and pop groups -
Oh jeez, that's a tough one. Today, it'd have to be The Monkees, Raquel's Boys, Elvis Presley and Frank Lee Sprague. But tomorrow never knows!

breakfast cereal -
besides all-Canadian pig Wheaties? Kelloggs has got a great new guilty morning pleasure called Cinnamon Bun Mini Swirlz, which I actually just finished yet another heaping bowlful of just a few minutes ago! Not all that good for the teeth, but with enough milk the stomach survives.

Beatle and Beatles song -
Fave Beatles have got to be the dead ones, and fave Beatles song? Howzabout "Please Please Me," which may just very well be The Very First Power Pop Song EVER (not counting Buddy Holly of course)

Beach Boy and Beach Boys song -
Brian's my fave, though I prefer his brother Carl's voice, and Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy I ever did get to spend any time with. Fave Beach Boys song? "The Little Girl I Once Knew," no contest!

musicians you have worked with -
Does P.F. Sloan count??

musical artists -
EVERY musician I've ever worked with just has to be my favorite, otherwise, the others will feel hurt and left out!

songs of others -
He's The One (original, Bangles-type version) by The Masticators, When Patti Rocked by Dave Rave, Earn That Love by Mark Johnson, Run Better Run by The Cheepskates, and I only produced ONE of those, I'll have you all know!

songs of your own -
Goodbye To Greatness was not only the easiest to compose (it practically wrote itself as I took a walk down Manhattan's East Side late one night), but it always plays SO well and so easily, on stage especially. I'm quite proud of that one. Gotta take another long walk one of these nights I guess.

Doug Pelton memory -
Probably my very first, as he tapped my shoulder in Grade 9 math class, introduced himself in his own very inimitable fashion, and asked me if I'd watched Laugh In the night before. Doug is my oldest pal.

Martin Goodman memory -
Again, I first met him when he showed up for a midnight teenaged jam at our friend Richard's house, wearing one of his father's old overalls from the gas station and carrying a cardboard version of Pete Townshend's Woodstock guitar. And I still have a tape of every single note we performed that fateful night!

Roy Furness memory -
We were stuck sitting by the roadside in the middle of New Brunswick someplace one perfect afternoon on tour (our van had just broken down) (again!), and as Roy looked out over the trees and up into the sky, he remarked how he felt we'd just stepped into the front cover of the Creedence Clearwater "Green River" album. That's Roy: a pure, magical mystical root rocker through and through!

11. Please talk a little about your own best and worst memories and experiences, and some things in your life you would like to change if you could, as well as any past regrets.

Regrets? I've had a few. But then again, too few to mention. And I truly believe the best is yet to come!

12. If you could accomplish anything, what would it be?

Get to the end of this interview without skipping off to down another bowl of Cinnamon Bun Mini Swirlz!!

13. What are your wishes, dreams and goals for the future, and what are some of your greatest accomplishment so far?

Wishes, dreams and goals? To write another song, make another recording, play another show, and have some more adventures, that's all. Same as it ever was, as David Byrne used to say! Greatest accomplishment so far? Making it this far (and not just in this interview ;-)

14. To what do you attribute your illustrious career and how has it all been so easily accomplished?

Well, it has been FAR from easy, Simon! But I look at it this way: I'm still having fun. And the best advice for dealing with the music biz, as Nick Lowe once advised, is to keep it as a hobby, in your mind, if nowhere else.

15. Please talk about bands you have been involved such as:

Martin and the E Chords -
Born that first night at Richard Cross' house when Gary met Cardboard Martin. We never really got things out of the basement, as Martin was reluctant to perform on stage back then. But I tell you, I bet we invented Punk Rock anyways!!

Interchange -
My initial escape valve from The Real World, honestly. My reason to quit school, leave home, catch mononucleosis, and make some of the very best friends I've EVER had.

The Specs -
Interchange in sheep's (as in satin) clothing; no more, no less. The very first professional band I ever had the pleasure to work with, introducing me to the wild wild world of musicians' unions, club owners, wicked wanton women of the night, and agents who keep changing their phone numbers every couple of days.

The Loved Ones -
The first real band I ever PLAYED with! And still probably my favorite.

Simply Saucer -
The first band I ever took in to the recording studio and produced, only coz the REAL producer got so fed up he walked out, leaving me the only guy at the mixing board. "This can't be all THAT hard," I thought. "This is just like a great big control panel on my record player!" By midnight, I'd finished the very first Simply Saucer record, which also turned out to be the very first Pig Record! It remains to this day a fervent fave of Steve Wynn, Thurston Moore, AND Cub Koda! And out of the thousands of copies I pressed up and put together in my parents' basement all those years ago, I got less than a dozen left, I'll have yez know.

The Dave Rave Conspiracy -
Hey Gary! I'm going into Dan Lanois' studio on Sunday morning to record. Wanna produce?Sure, I said. Hey Dave! You know my friend at art school in Brooklyn? He has an apartment we can illegally sublet for six months. Wanna move to New York City? Sure, Dave said. Hey, can you release our record in Russia? Sure, said the rep from Melodiya Records who showed up at our first-ever gig in Greenwich Village. Hey, can I play drums for you guys, said by no less than Billy Ficca shortly thereafter. I guess the rest is history, and Dave and I are playing a gig back at that very same club in the Village in a couple of months, believe it or not!

The Ghost Rockets -
What do you get when you mix Roger Miller with Paul Revere and the Raiders, garnish with a dash of Buck Owens, then have The Band's pedal steel guitarist join up for the ride? You get the band that probably put the "alt" into country once and for all! Too bad our song "Marcia Marcia Marcia" never made it into the second Brady Bunch movie, though it DID become a big turntable hit in Holland and New Zealand, I kid you not!!

The Next Big Thing -
The culmination of every single musical thing I've ever done or even imagined so far in my rollercoaster life: We've been compared to a rockabilly Neil Diamond, a skiffle Hollies, and (my fave so far) The Everly Brothers meet Peter, Buck and Mary, and that's after only four shows together!! Better check it out for yourselves, everyone:

16. Please talk a little about Marty Murray
You know why I not only like, but ADMIRE Marty Murray so much? Because he dared to review – in PRINT – one of the very first Ghost Rockets demos we ever sent out into the world. The one where we sang a German version of "What Am I Doin' Hangin' Round" right alongside my bluegrass "O Canada." And he LIKED it !!! If I haven't said it before, I say it now: Thank You, Marty, and man, you got weird taste in music !!

17. As the hardest working man in showbusiness, please tell us about some things you are working on at the moment?

On my virtual desktop this week, being written as we virtually speak today, is a review of Jandek's first New York concert, a press release for a John Lennon 65th Birthday concert, starring my friends Bubble, a story about the time Mr. Rave and I were hired to write songs for Bob Dylan's girlfriend, Part Two of my landmark interview with Beach Boys historian extrodinaire Domenic Priore (everyone, Be Sure and read his book, "SMiLE: The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece," and an obituary for my friend, Al Aronowitz, The Man Who Invented The Sixties. Meanwhile, over in the next room I got demos of about five or six new songs in the pipeline as well (The Next Big Thing are back in the studio in two weeks). A pig's work is NEVER done, is it?

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