By Chris M. Junior
He wasn't asked to do much — just add backing vocals and saxophone to a song by the New Jersey garage-rock band The Doughboys. But by the time he finished recording his parts, Mark Lindsay left the studio with an offer to possibly write on a regular basis with one of the band’s members.
It’s an offer Lindsay, best known as the lead singer for Paul Revere and The Raiders, didn’t refuse. “Like Nothing That You’ve Seen,” Lindsay’s recent single, is proof that his songwriting partnership with Doughboys guitarist Gar Francis is off to a solid start.
“I would say that Gar is one of the best collaborative partners I’ve ever had,” Lindsay says. “He really holds up his end. He’s a little edgier than I am in some ways, but the chemistry works really well.”
Recorded at New Jersey’s House of Vibes studio and produced by Francis, “Like Nothing That You’ve Seen” features backing vocals by Steven Van Zandt, who earlier this year dubbed the tune “the coolest song in the world” on his “Underground Garage” radio show.
Whether Lindsay performs the song this summer on the Happy Together Tour — featuring fellow 1960s hit makers Gary Lewis and The Playboys, Gary Puckett and The Union Gap and others — remains to be seen. "Life Out Loud," Lindsay's album with songs he wrote with Francis was released June 8, 2013, via Bongo Boy Records.
Goldmine: Through the years, you’ve probably had your share of offers from interested collaborators. What was it about Gar Francis that made you reach out to him after his casual inquiry to write together?
Mark Lindsay: I got turned on to The Doughboys’ stuff, and I loved the material and I loved Gar’s writing. When I got called to do the session [for their 2012 album], Gar said, “What do you think about collaborating?” I said, “Sure.” He sent me a song. I’m kind of based in Florida, and I was flying back from the West Coast, and I put it on [during my flight home]. By the time I got back, I had the lyrics, and I sent them to him, and he liked them. So he kept sending more and more tracks — sometimes with a melody, sometimes with some lyrics. We both write lyrics and melodies. I like the way he puts tracks together. When I write, I get something in my head and walk for six to nine miles, wherever I am, and just kind of toss it in the air. And pretty soon, things just start coming out of the air (laughs), and I write it down.
GM: According to Francis, you guys work on songs via e-mail. How do you like that way of writing?
ML: Basically, he e-mails me a track or an idea, and I’ll work on it in my head. And when I get some lyrics or add whatever it needs, I’ll record it in GarageBand on my computer and e-mail it back to him. That’s the process.
GM: So nothing was lost from the lack of face-to-face interaction?
ML: No, no. I’m going to be up in New Jersey this summer for about three months; it’ll be really interesting working face to face and seeing what we come up with (laughs). It’ll probably just speed up the process a little bit.
GM: How does the rest of your new album compare sound- and content-wise to the single “Like Nothing That You’ve Seen”?
ML: It’s all pretty close. It certainly has a lot of ’60s influence. In the last couple of years, I’ve kind of gotten in touch with my 18-year-old muse. It’s all fresh again. I like everything from classical to country … but Gar wanted to go in a little more rootsy and rockin’ [direction], and so we’re doing that, and it’s working.
GM: You’ll be on the road this summer as part of the Happy Together Tour. Will that format allow you to work in some of these new songs, or will you be sticking to your Paul Revere and The Raiders hits and older solo material?
ML: It really depends. If we get enough airplay on “Like Nothing That You’ve Seen” or the next new tune, I’ll be able to work one in. But if not, it’s pretty self-indulgent to say, “I know why you people came and why you’re here, but let me play you something else, OK?” So if [the new material] gets a little exposure, I’ll have a legitimate reason to pull it out and play it. But if it’s totally unfamiliar to the audience, it’s really not fair to try and make them listen to it — even though it’s good. I think if I played it, they’d respond to it, because it’s pretty much in the same genre as the early Raiders stuff.
GM: Speaking of hits, what’s the story behind The Monkees recording “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” after hearing a demo that you had cut with Paul Revere and the Raiders?
ML: I was living with [producer] Terry Melcher; we were sharing a house on Cielo Drive [in Beverly Hills] and writing songs. We were still getting a lot of material from outside writers, like Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. And we got this tune in from Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart called “Steppin’ Stone.” We thought it was a hit and cut it.
Terry and I were at the Whisky A Go Go, and we saw Tommy there. He asked me, “When’s the single coming out?” I said, “It’ll be out in two or three weeks.” And the next day, we got “Kicks” in the mail from Mann and Weil. We thought, “This is really a hit.” So we cut it, and we had to call Tommy back and say, “Look, we’re going to have to put [‘Steppin’ Stone’] on hold for a bit.” We blamed our label: “Columbia wants to release a different single first” — and that was “Kicks.”
When we cut “Steppin’ Stone,” we gave [Boyce and Hart] an acetate copy of it [which they played for The Monkees], and they didn’t tell them who it was [on the recording]. So you can hear Micky Dolenz doing the same ad-libs I did at the end of ours. Because in those days, you pretty much copied the demo. It wasn’t an artist you were competing with, it was other writers — and nobody really cared [who made the demo]. That’s why the two records are so similar because they copied our record without knowing it was us (laughs).
It’s funny: A couple of years ago, I was on the Happy Together Tour, and so was Micky. He starts “Steppin’ Stone,” and I come out onstage and say, “Wait a minute: You can’t sing my song!” It made for a good bit, and we sang the song together.
GM: Your hits with Paul Revere and The Raiders are memorable, but so are those stage outfits you guys wore back then. Those clothes looked heavy and uncomfortable. How did they fit and feel?
ML: They were heavy and uncomfortable. It all started as a joke. Paul and I were still living in Portland, Ore., and we were walking down the street to pick up our dry cleaning for a gig that night. And we passed a costume shop, here were all of these creative costumes with the long Revolutionary coats. And we looked at each other and said, “We should rent these for a joke and put them on after intermission tonight. Because that’s the way the Revolutionary War guys used to dress.”
So we did, and it went over great. And also, it totally changed the tenor of the band. We suddenly felt like we were in costume and nobody really knew who we were, so we could get away with anything. The craziness just amped up.
So we eventually had them made, and they were heavy. We were playing a lot of armories in the Northwest at that time, and one night, [the Raiders’ then-bassist] and I weighed our coats after a gig, and they weighed eight pounds more than they did when we put them on. There was that much [sweat] in them. They were hot, but after a while, if you get into it, you can be wearing anything. You can be in armor, but if you’re really into the gig, it doesn’t matter.
GM: Do you still have any of them? And maybe wear one once in a while just for laughs?
ML: (Laughs) I think there are a couple hanging in a closet somewhere, but no, I don’t wear them anymore for laughs. Most of them I actually gave away to the Salvation Army. I can just imagine some street person walking around in full Revolutionary garb.