By Mike Greenblatt
Every school day I would race home to turn on ABC-TV at 4 P.M. to watch a show called “Where The Action Is.” I was 14. It was 1965. The Beatles had already played on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” “Shindig!” and “Hullabaloo” were the only good music shows on TV at night. (This was way before “The Midnight Special” and “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.”) “Where The Action Is” had beach locales, pretty girls, rock ’n’ roll bands and I’d excitedly call for my grandma to watch it with me. We both loved it.
My favorite band on that show was Paul Revere & The Raiders, who wore Revolutionary War costumes, but whose songs were pure adrenaline to my teenaged brain. There was a hot girl singer, too, in the cast, Tina Mason. I learned decades later that Raider bassist Phil “Fang” Volk married her and 48 years later, they’re still married and in a family band, “Fang & The Gang,” with their two daughters.
Paul Revere & The Raiders had moved to Los Angeles from Boise, Idaho, to record what would become some seminal garage-rock classics produced by Terry Melcher. “Just Like Me” was tough, snarly and featured one of the first double-tracked electric lead guitar solos. It had attitude and balls and sounded great on my grandfather’s Oldsmobile car radio. When they lip-synched to it on the show, I would go wild. They also recorded “Louie Louie” at around the same time, and in the same Oregon studio, as The Kingsmen. But their best work was on such classics as “Kicks,” “Hungry” and “Good Thing,” all of which became huge hits.
Then why doesn’t Paul Revere & The Raiders get the respect they so deserve?
True, they broke up in ’67 when three original Raiders — the drummer, bassist and lead guitarist — formed Brotherhood. But they reconvened in the early ‘70s to open a huge Beach Boys tour, and then in the late ‘70s for a Dick Clark television special. “After 13 years apart,” says Volk, “the original band was happy to be back and playing again … but that 1978 special proved to be the last time we would ever get together with Paul.”
“Paul was really upset about the original ’67 break-up,” remembers Volk. “We wanted to write our own songs. We weren’t getting our songs on any of the albums. Plus, we felt (lead singer) Mark Lindsay was steering the group in the wrong direction. He was still kind of doing that teenybopper thing, catering to all the young girls. But we knew, and we were right, that things were getting musically edgier in the late ‘60s; with more relevant music according to what was happening in the world. Rock ’n’ roll was garnering people like Jimi Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge, Cream and The Who. The music was growing up. But not us. That proved to be the downfall of the group. They refused to make the proper adjustments. Had Paul listened to me, Drake (Levin) and Smitty (Smith), maybe the original Raiders would’ve hung together a little longer.”
No less than 33 musicians have passed through the Raiders ranks since. In 1971, a defanged Paul Revere & The Raiders hit No. 1 with “Indian Reservation.” Fang was already gone, off to replace future Eagle Randy Meisner in Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon band.
A 1997 30-year reunion (minus Paul Revere) had the Raiders in Portland, Oregon, playing for more than 10,000 fans. It would be their final hurrah. Smitty Smith died in 2001, Drake Levin died in 2009 and Paul Revere died in 2014. In 2011, “The Essential Paul Revere & The Raiders” came out on Legacy to accumulate their pioneering tracks, but failed to ignite a groundswell of appreciation that would result in a call from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Paul Revere & The Raiders Face Long Ride to Hall of Fame
“We’re musicians first,” states Fang with no uncertainty. “We just decided to wear Revolutionary War outfits and capitalize on Paul Revere’s name, but that just made the kids enjoy it even more. I don’t see it as any different from the outfits The Beatles wore on ‘Sgt. Pepper’s.’ Everybody wanted to do something unique back in the day. Look at KISS! They’re in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame! No one thinks they’re uncool. So why discredit us because of our costumes? At the time we did that, it was relevant. People loved it. As we advanced and got more hits, our look changed. We always looked really great onstage. We never looked like a bunch of bums or country bumpkins with plaid shirts or T-shirts. That’s why we did every major TV show. In fact, Paul Revere & The Raiders are the only rock band in history that did an episode of “Batman.” We were bad guys because we were with The Penguin — played by Burgess Meredith — at his campaign rally when he ran for Mayor of Gotham City.”
As far as their prototypical punk edge, as personified by “Kicks” is concerned, Phil “Fang” Volk has a few words to say about that, too.
“‘Kicks’ was a real milestone for the Raiders because we had discovered a new instrumental concept. Drake would come up with a guitar line and I would play a counter line on bass; similar to “Satisfaction” by the Stones. Our producer, Terry Melcher, continued that formula on “Hungry.” We knew, as the rhythm section, how to interpret each other’s musical vibe to blend really nicely, even in a counterpoint situation, which gave certain songs an edge.”
He’s right. Listening now, it’s amazing how the clarity and edginess, complete with attitude and chops, still stands tall after all these years. Paul Revere & The Raiders should, indeed, be thought of as more culturally significant than they are.
And yeah, it’s this journalist’s humble opinion that they’re way cooler than KISS. GM