By Conrad Stinnett
When guitarist Dee Long, bassist Jon Woloschuk and drummer Terry Draper started working together at Klaatu in the early 1970s, the Canadian musicians’ goal was to create some memorable music that was as good as that of the groups that influenced them.
“Terry and I were really big fans of late ’60s progressive bands like King Crimson and The Moody Blues,” Woloschuk said. “We also really liked radio from that period, where we were exposed to a variety of really well-crafted pop songs. That really did make a big impression on us.”
Draper noted the band was reacting to what the musicians believed was a period of musical malaise.
“We really perceived a lack of substance in the music of the early ’70s. It was a bleak time for creativity,” he said. “We grew up in the ’60s, when there was tremendous creativity in the music. We wanted to do music that was on par with that.”
Their focus on the music included a decision to forego the usual credits and pictures that graced most rock albums.
“It was really a rebellion against glam rock,” Woloschuk said. “We were young and idealistic and really wanted the music to speak for itself. Plus, we were just three guys from Toronto. Nobody knew who we were anyway.”
The band worked with producer Terry Brown (best known for his work with Rush) on an album of well-produced pop-rock songs in which listeners could pick out influences including The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, King Crimson and, of course, The Beatles. The album, titled “3:47 EST in Canada,” hit U.S. record shops as simply “Klaatu.”
In February 1977, a review of the album in the Providence Journal (Rhode Island) drew similarities between the Klaatu and The Beatles and suggested that Klaatu might even be a secret project by the Fab Four. The fact that the Toronto trio was anonymous and didn’t do interviews helped fuel speculation, as was the fact that the album was released in the U.S. by Capital Records, The Beatles’ American label. The time period was also a factor, as The Beatles’ split was still fairly recent.
“We were all big Beatles fans, and we were hoping they would reunite,” Draper said. “At the time, the idea of a reunited Beatles wasn’t far-fetched at all.”
The band members heard the Beatles rumor and, while flattered to be compared to the Fab Four, they didn’t take it seriously.
“It caught us by surprise,” Draper said. “We were in London, working with the London Symphony on the orchestral parts of our ‘Hope’ album. We didn’t think too much about it at the time.”
Radio stations began playing the band’s music, and deejays picked up on the rumor and added their own speculation to the mix. Klaatu’s debut album crept into the Billboard Top 200, where it peaked at No. 32. The songs “Calling Occupants” and “Sub-Rosa Subway” were played on FM rock stations. The second Klaatu album, “Hope,” showed the group toward a heavier progressive direction, with lengthy opuses “Long Live Politzania” and “Prelude/So Said the Lighthouse Keeper.”
By the time of the release of the band’s third album, 1978’s “Sir Army Suit,” the identities of the band members had been revealed, and a backlash of sorts began against the group.
“Radio stations that had been playing our songs, suddenly stopped,” said Draper.
In an attempt to make the band more mainstream, Klaatu’s fourth album, “Endangered Species” was controlled by their record label. The final album, “Magentalane,” was released in Canada in 1981. After a short live tour, the band called it a day.
“I think it is true that The Beatles rumor did us as much harm as good,” Long said. “It got us noticed, which was great, but also led to a situation where we could not ever really measure up to expectations.”
Years later, Long had the opportunity to talk about Klaatu to Beatle bassist Sir Paul McCartney, while Long was working as an engineer at George Martin’s Air Studios in the late ’80s.
“The day I met Paul was bizarre,” he recalled.” I arrived at AIR studios, and the guard at the entrance handed me a note. He said, ‘It’s from Paul McCartney.’ The note simply said, ‘I’m going to do you!’ In British, that means punch you out. I looked at the guard, and he laughed and said, ‘Don’t worry.’ Later, when I was working in Studio 5, there was a knock on the door, and in comes Paul with two bodyguards in pinstripe suits. Paul had a black eye. He introduced himself (like he needed any introduction) and said, ‘So you’re the chap from The Beatles clone band.’ He explained that he was on a TV talk show and the host played a bit of ‘Calling Occupants’ and asked Paul if that was him singing! Paul had never heard the song and said so. Later back at AIR studios, George Martin explained that one of the chaps from the band works in Studio 5. We talked for at least an hour, and I explained that we were never a clone band but just heavily influenced by The Beatles. We talked about music and life, and he told me that he got the black eye while playing with his daughters. He came back many times to hang out and jam and talk about writing songs. Again, he was just a wonderful person — easy to talk to, and full of positive energy. An experience I will always treasure.”
Even though Klaatu disbanded in 1981, its catalog has remained available to consumers, and several compilations have hit the market. “The Sun Set,” a box-set collection of outtakes and rarities, including the original version of the “Hope” album, was released in 2005. A follow-up rarities collection, “Solology,” came out in 2009 and included the band’s six-song, live acoustic performance at the 2005 Toronto KlaatuKon.
Long and Draper continue to release solo projects, while Woloshuk is primarily focused on his accounting business.
The band’s members credit the Internet and an organized and dedicated fan base with helping to keep interest alive. Of course, the uniqueness of Klaatu’s music is an ongoing factor in the durable interest in the band.
“We have a lot of older fans who have stuck with us through the years,” Woloschuk said, “but we’ve also been able to attract a lot of young people, as well. Music is a form of communication, and I think our music continues to connect with people.”
Long continues to perform live and often adds Klaatu songs to his set.
“I always get a good response,” he said. “It is surprising how often people remember the songs. The best reaction I have had was when my current band, Atomic Tracktor, played Canada Day in the park here in Lillooet [British Columbia] a few years ago. We did ‘Older,’ and a chap came up to the stage, and asked if he could shake my hand. He told me that was brilliant, and he was thrilled. He said he never imagined he would get to hear that song done live, and thanked me for making his day.”
While there are no plans to release a new Klaatu album, the band has embarked on an ambitious reissue project through its own Klaatunes label. In conjunction with Brown, the band has worked to archive its catalog in high-resolution digital form.
“When the digital transfers were complete, I literally heard things on them that I’d not heard before,” said Draper. “I heard myself counting off on the break at the end of ‘True Life Hero.’”
Although Brown hadn’t worked with Klaatu since the albums were originally recorded, his presence at the remastering sessions was an important factor, Long said.
“This is a big deal, and we are extremely grateful that he was able to attend. After all, he helped us to create our sound more than anyone else,” Long said.
The plan is to upgrade the original five albums and reissued them via CD and MP3 download. There also is the possibility that the upgraded Klaatu catalog could be released on high-quality vinyl. The remastered recordings, as well as other Klaatu items, can be purchased from the band’s website: www.klaatutheband.com.
Admittedly, the process of updating the recordings is expensive and time-consuming,. But the members of Klaatu remain committed to keeping their music available to current and future audiences.
“Those albums really are our babies,” Woloschuk said. “We’re proud of the work we did and want to be sure it continues to be available.”
Draper, who is also the president of Klaatunes Records — “One day, I will be ‘King,’” he joked — has worked with illustrator Ted Jones, who did the albums’ original artwork, to craft new booklets that incorporate existing art with new pieces commissioned specifically for the updated projects.
While the band members would have enjoyed having a longer collective career, they all seem pleased with what the band was able to accomplish.
“I look around, and I see the Gold records on the wall and I see the awards we received,” said Draper. “I know what we accomplished. It wasn’t mega success, but I think we accomplished what we set out to do, which was to create some really good music.” GM