Malibooz revive British Invasion with new album

Guitarist and co-leader, John Zambetti, tells how the new album,“Queens’ English,” became a classic British Invasion reunion.
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The Malibooz’ John Zambetti (center, above), wasn’t afraid to pull out all the stops — including his wife’s good cooking and a trip to the beach in his 1941 Ford woodie station wagon —to persuade Quarrymen members Colin Hanton, Len Gary and Ron Davis to take part in The Malibooz’ new album “Queen’s English.” Photo courtesy www.malibooz.net

The Malibooz’ John Zambetti (center, above), wasn’t afraid to pull out all the stops — including his wife’s good cooking and a trip to the beach in his 1941 Ford woodie station wagon —to persuade Quarrymen members Colin Hanton, Len Gary and Ron Davis to take part in The Malibooz’ new album “Queen’s English.” Photo courtesy www.malibooz.net

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Malibooz never rode off entirely into the sunset. The band just went through some on-again, off-again periods since 1964.

In 2010, it’s on again for The Malibooz, who released “Queen’s English,” the band’s first CD of new music in eight years. As you might guess from the title, the album pays homage to the music of the 1960s British Invasion, along with special guests Donovan, Spencer Davis, The Hollies’ Tony Hicks, Chad & Jeremy, Andrew Loog Oldham, Nokie Edwards, The Shadows’ Mark Griffiths, Ian Whitcomb and The Troggs’ Richard Moore. You can find out more about the band at its Web site, www.malibooz.net. In this installment of “Where Are They Now,” guitarist and co-leader John Zambetti share’s the story of how “Queen’s English” came to be, in his own words.

•••••

By John Zambetti

Members of The Malibooz celebrated the band’s 40th anniversary in 2004 by performing at their old high school in New York City and then going to Liverpool, England, for a performance at The Cavern Club and at BBC Merseyside.
I decided we should play our 1964 set list (which I still have). On first perusal, I noticed that it was laden not only with Brit Invasion tunes of the day, but several Brit-inspired originals. And why not? We were big fans of the genre, having caught most of the British bands live when they first hit New York. I saw The Beatles at Forest Hills Stadium (a year before Shea Stadium), The Rolling Stones’ first show at Carnegie Hall (pre-“Satisfaction,” it was half filled), multiple Dave Clark Five concerts, as well as the ever-astounding Murray the K Brooklyn Fox shows, featuring huge laundry lists of diversified acts that included The Kinks, The Zombies, The Searchers, etc.

A VERY YOUTHFUL MALIBOOZ lineup appears in this vintage shot from the 1960s that was featured in the “Malibooz Rule” package. Photo courtesy www.malibooz.net

A VERY YOUTHFUL MALIBOOZ lineup appears in this vintage shot from the 1960s that was featured in the “Malibooz Rule” package. Photo courtesy www.malibooz.net

When The Malibooz finally got around to recording our first full LP for Rhino in 1981, we concentrated on our surf roots and laid down many of the tunes we had written in the ’60s, but they were only the surf tunes. It seemed a shame that these other early originals wouldn’t see the light of day.

Thus, the idea for this album was born. The flip-side of our 1965 single “Goin’ To Malibu” was the Walter Egan-penned, Brit-inspired “That’s A Lie.” We had performed it at our TV appearance at the 1965 World’s Fair in Queens, New York). That’s when the show’s host made the remark, “You boys play everything from surf music to the English sound. What’s the difference?” Yes, indeed, what was the difference? Well, I made short work of that in my reply, but the reality was 40 years later, we hadn’t realized those tunes.

On July 4, 2008, Donovan was visiting L.A. and stopped by my house. He hadn’t seen my new studio, and when he did, he immediately said, “We should record something together here.” That was all I needed; we’d do our long-overdue Brit Invasion album and have some of the original “invaders” join us.

I contacted a record executive friend who had many contacts with ’60s musicians. I told him about my planned project and asked if he would set up some introductions for me. His response was, “What’s in it for them?” It had never occurred to me that my fellow ’60s musicians would not be as enthusiastic as I was and just do it for the fun of it. Sometimes, being naïve about the impossibility of the project you’re about to embark on is the most crucial factor in securing its success!

John Zambetti (left) and Walter Egan perform with the band at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center in Lancaster, Calif., in 2008. Photo courtesy www.malibooz.net/Will Thompson

John Zambetti (left) and Walter Egan perform with the band at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center in Lancaster, Calif., in 2008. Photo courtesy www.malibooz.net/Will Thompson

While in the midst of writing tunes for the project, I received a call from Billy Stern. Billy is an old friend who recently became a board member of Guitars in the Classroom. Billy invited me to a GITC fundraiser that featured The Quarrymen. The show was hosted by Sirius Satellite Radio’s Chris Carter from “Breakfast With The Beatles.” My brother, Teddy, is a producer with Sirius, and I figured with the combination of Teddy and Billy, I’d get to meet The Q-men. It worked, and I invited them to dinner in Malibu the next day. They had a full schedule, which was growing by the minute, but they really wanted to see Malibu beach (and my guitar pool).

After dinner, I invited them to see my studio. I had already set it up with the song I wanted them to sing on. I made the proposition, and they gladly complied. Their friendly demeanor and thick, scouser accents transformed the song and took it right back to 1964. Later on, Len Garry told me he couldn’t believe that Colin (Hanton) had sung on the tune. He and Rod (Davis) had been trying to get him to sing for years, but he never would. Len surmised that Colin felt obliged after the ride to the beach in my ’41 Ford Woody and my wife Joan’s great dinner. Furthermore, he confirmed that this was Colin’s first recorded vocal performance. Remember, Colin was in the original Beatles’ lineup and drummed on their primitive demo. His drumming is on the Beatles’ Anthology album. Now I was off and running!

With The Quarrymen on board, I contacted Rhino Records founder Harold Bronson. I had met Ian Whitcomb at Harold’s home and was hoping he’d remind Ian of that and set the stage for Ian to participate. An e-mail went out, and Ian happily complied. His period “megaphone” vocals worked great on “A Bit of Awright.”
I also knew that Harold knew Spencer Davis and hoped he’d do the same. I had met Spencer several times in the distant past, and Walter had been on a bill with him in Nashville not so long ago. Harold gave me his number. It turned out that Spencer had been a great friend of our late drummer, Bruce Gary. He was happy to participate as a tribute to Bruce, and he also arranged for me to see him in concert at the Wiltern Theatre. The Zombies and The Yardbirds were also on the bill.

Guitar Center’s Ray Scheer is a friend from the classic car world who also owns Favored Nations Records, The Yardbirds’ record label. In the late ’60s, our band had been on the bill with former Yardbird Keith Relf’s band Renaissance, and, although none of the other ex-Yardbird/ Renaissance musicians were in the current lineup, I felt there was enough of a connection to get a conversation going.

Ray set up the e-mail connection, and I began a dialogue with Jim McCarty, the original Yardbirds’ drummer. I got to spend some time with him backstage at the Wiltern concert. Jim was into participating, but their hectic schedule didn’t allow for it.

Photo courtesy www.malibooz.net/Will Thompson

Photo courtesy www.malibooz.net/Will Thompson

Malibooz at te Blue Lagoon in Marina del Ray, CA, March, 1981. Photo by Bob Mutascio

Malibooz at te Blue Lagoon in Marina del Ray, CA, March, 1981. Photo by Bob Mutascio

A few weeks later, Spencer was able to come up to the studio. As he was driving into town, he called and said, “Guess who I brought with me?” It was Peter Jamieson! I had last seen Peter in 1970 when Walter’s and my college band, Sageworth, opened for Spencer & Peter at the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C. It was amazing! After some preliminary catching up, Spencer laid down a killer harp part on “A Bit of Awright” and Peter an acoustic 12-string on “Bitter Grey.” Then we were off to a local Italian café for a long lunch.

Next. I contacted Gered Mankowitz. Gered is a legendary British photographer —his photographs are displayed in England’s National Portrait Gallery — who is well known for his work with Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones and other artists, including Traffic, Marianne Faithfull, The Yardbirds and Chad & Jeremy.

I’d met Gered through original Malibooz member, Chris Murray. Chris owns the Govinda Gallery in Washington, D.C. and represents Gered’s photography in America. I’d visited Gered several times in London and he had stayed with us on a recent trip to L.A. In fact, Gered had photographed my son, Johnny, and me when we recorded at Abbey Road Studio No. 2 in 2001. Amazingly, because Gered primarily worked with The Rolling Stones, having photographed several of their early album covers (“Out of Our Heads,” “Between The Buttons,” “Got Live If You Want It,” etc.), he had never photographed inside Abbey Road! Gered was up for shooting our album cover!

A few weeks later, original Rolling Stones producer and manager Andrew Loog Oldham came by the house during an L.A. visit. I had met ALO many years ago when he produced an album for Repairs, a band that included Walter’s cousin on guitar. Andrew now had a show on Sirius, and I had run into him again several years ago in Malibu and New York. I played him some of the demos I had recorded for the album. He agreed to participate and did a great reading, in his inimitable style, on “London Underground.”

In the past, I have retained the KubRo Group media and public relations company, where David Carr is chief publicist and general manager. David had straddled both sides of the rock and roll ocean by playing with both The Fortunes (on both of their smashes, “You’ve Got Your Troubles, I’ve Got Mine” and “Here It Comes Again”) and The Ventures. He would be perfect for the project, and he agreed to help.

"Queen's English" cover

"Queen's English" cover

John Farrar is a neighbor of mine. He is mostly known for writing the music for “Grease” and for writing and producing mega-hits for Olivia Newton-John. But, back in the day, he did a stint on guitar with The Shadows. When I met John a few years back, he was amazed that I knew that. Combined with a mutual interest in tennis, we became friends.
If I was to properly honor the British Invasion, I had to acknowledge the instrumental roots. (I had already covered skiffle with The Quarrymen.) What if I had a tune with both The Shadows and The Ventures? “Venture Into The Shadows” was born.

With John Farrar on board, I wanted to try to get one of the original Ventures involved. In the meantime, through guitarist and author Robb Lawrence (who incidentally was the photographer for the picture sleeve of our Malibooz’ Columbia single in 1980) I attempted to reach Nokie Edwards. Unfortunately, Nokie’s wanderings had left Robb with out-of-date contact information. On a whim, I decided to try Nokie’s Web site. Sure enough, Judy Edwards replied, and a date was set for me to record Nokie at his Yuma, Ariz., home.

In 1983, my brother, Teddy, had played drums for Chad & Jeremy on a British Invasion redux tour. Also, Jeremy was a great friend of Gered’s. I had Gered set the stage, and I sent Chad an MP3 of “Good Tonight.” He dug it and felt it was reminiscent of “Summer Song” and would be perfect for them. I told the scholarly Chad that The Malibooz had performed “Summer Song” at our high school elocution contest (after all, players play!) That’s all he needed to hear; Chad & Jeremy were in.

In the meantime, old British buddy Roger Swallow came by to add some percussion. In England, Roger had been on Rutland Weekend Television (where the original Rutles parody was created) and also played drums for Ian Matthews’ Southern Comfort as well as a host of other British outfits. Roger, Walter and I had played in the Magneto Band together in the mid-’70s, and we’d always remained close. Roger now spends his time between businesses in London and L.A. He offered to corral Shadows bassist Mark Griffiths for the project as well as participate himself.

I called the band together, and we began recording. We were finishing up recording “London Underground” (it has a bit of a “Hide Your Love Away” vibe to it), and we thought it would be nice to have pan flute-type sound in it as an homage. After trying several patches, I remembered that I had an ocarina application on my iPhone. Ocarina would be perfect. After all, The Troggs had used one on “Wild Thing.” I fired it up, and it sounded great. Shortly thereafter, a friend gave me The Troggs’ Richard Moore’s number. Richard came by to add the “Wild Thing” guitar pull to “So Bad.” I told him the ocarina story, and he said, “The ‘Wild Thing’ ocarina…I have it right here!” To my amazement he pulled the ocarina out of his backpack. It was immediately added to “Dit Dididit.”

One of The Malibooz’ favorite groups is The Hollies. In fact, we performed “Look Through Any Window” for the “Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour” (we lost out to a roller skating accordionist!). I contacted The Hollies’ manager, Jimmy Smith, and sent him the demo of “Just A Little Bit” to see if Tony Hicks might get involved. I had written “Just A Little Bit” as kind of a Buddy-Holly-meets-The Hollies tune. On the track, I even included the celeste from “Everyday,” and the attaché case drumming from “Peggy Sue matched with a Hollies-style vocal arrangement. It seemed perfect to me. Promptly, Jimmy e-mailed back that Tony would be happy to replace the guitar, bass and drum tracks. “No man, we want that voice!” “Oh, you want him to sing!” Tony did a fantastic job on “Just A Little Bit” and really gave it an authentic sound. It takes me right back every time I hear it.

The Searchers are another fave of ours. I had met Frank Allen back when Teddy did the 1983 British Invasion tour. It turns out that The Searchers are touring more than ever, and they didn’t have a break to participate. I told Frank about my idea to do a little homage to the first Searcher’s LP, The one where they had the “Meet The Searchers” grid that included the boys’ weights in stone! I wanted to do it right and couldn’t find my original LP. Frank got on it, and within a few days, he e-mailed me a photo of the “grid”. Our take on it is part of the “Queen’s English” CD package.

As we were finishing up the mixes, I got together with Jeffrey Foskett. He was performing nearby as Brian Wilson’s musical director. I gave Jeffrey a copy of the mixes. He called me the next morning to say he really dug them. I told him we were mastering at Abbey Road Studios. I knew he had done the TV show, “Live From Abbey Road,” with Brian, and I wondered if he had any connections there. We had been trying to get Tony Hicks’ son, Paul, involved, but I was reluctant to ask Tony. Jeffrey couldn’t believe it. Paul Hicks was a good friend of his, but he never knew he was Tony Hicks’ son! Paul had engineered The Beatles’ “Rock Band” sessions and worked closely with producer Giles Martin. Needless to say, he was highly sought after. Jeffrey contacted him, and Paul agreed to help.

So that’s how “Queens’ English” came to be. In the end, no one ever asked me, “What’s in it for them?” Instead, the passion and enthusiasm that made the British Invasion of the 1960s immortal is still very much alive. Over the past 40-plus years, we’ve all traveled different paths, but in the end we all love the music just as much now as we did then.

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