Fabulous Flip Sides of The Fifth Estate with drummer Ken Evans

We discuss The Fifth Estate’s new compilation of garage rock songs before and after “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” including recent recordings and live rarities from the Connecticut band
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Fifth Estate Garunge

GOLDMINE: Welcome back to Goldmine. It has been a few years since you and I were discussing your part in Tony Renzoni’s Connecticut Rock 'n' Roll book for the magazine. Garunge Deluxe is a nice mix of your older recordings along with some songs from your newer albums. I think fans and readers less familiar with your work will enjoy this mix.

KEN EVANS: Thank you for having me back. Early this summer, “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” was in the Top 10 on Amazon’s Adult Alternative Singles list. I saw it at No. 6. Imagine that, from over fifty years ago in the summer of 1967. Our Best of The Fifth Estate album was also at No. 64 on their Adult Alternative Albums chart. Now Garunge Deluxe is out and we hope that this one does well too.

GM: Let’s talk about those songs. “So Little Time,” from 1965 on the Kapp label, is moody, reminding me of The Beau Brummels and “Love is All a Game,” from 1966 on the Red Bird label, is so catchy.

KE: “So Little Time” showed our guitarist Bill Shute’s folk roots on that Kapp recording. When “Love is All a Game” came out, Red Bird was struggling as a label as the times were changing. Most of the record companies at the time were not picking up on what the Brits were doing fast enough, yet both of those songs did okay regionally. That was before we attended a party in New York City where our lyricist, Don Askew, bragged that The Fifth Estate were so good that we could make a hit out of anything. Then another person pretty much bet that we couldn’t make a hit out of “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead.” We took that as a challenge and the record became so huge that it overshadowed the rest of our work, which is why we put out this Garunge Deluxe album right now, without that big hit included. We were a rock and roll band. We played shows with The Count Five, The Electric Prunes, and other bands who are looked at as strictly garage rock bands. We had a little more breadth than that and everyone could sing except me. The guys would say, “You sing like a drummer. Let us take care of that part, you just keep the beat going.” In our early days we rehearsed at Wayne Wadhams’ parents’ house on Camp Avenue, which was in an industrial section of Stamford, Connecticut. We liked the name of the street as “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” was considered to be a campy hit. We had the entire first floor of the house. There were stairs going up the front, so the whole family really lived on the second floor. When we rehearsed, half of the neighborhood was there dancing and jumping around to our teenage band. There was a factory on one side and across the street was the first place we ever played at which was called The Paradise Bar & Grill and you can underline the bar part of the name. There wasn’t much grilling going on. We got to play there as very underage kids and we are pretty much the same guys throughout the new compilation, although Wayne passed away about a decade ago. When I left the band around 1970, I worked with another drummer from the area named Bob Klein who sat in for me and replaced me. Now Bob has replaced Wayne, who was our keyboardist and main singer. Our guitarists Bill Shute, Rick Engler and bassist Doug Ferrara are all still with us in the band. We kind of stuck together like brothers. Bill also plays a variety of instruments. We liked to experiment with different sounds. In the 1960s the musical world opened up where you could stretch and try to do a lot of different things. We enjoyed every moment of it. You can hear Bill play mandolin on “Sylvia Bottomly.”

GM: That song is a folk rock favorite of mine on the compilation. Let’s also talk about “Tomorrow is My Turn,” which certainly captures that “garunge”sound, with a moody darkness offset by a great melody and high notes, a bit like some of Paul Revere and The Raiders’ more edgy recordings.

KE: That song is probably the most Fifth Estate sounding song from that era. It had an immense amount of Wayne’s harpsichord on it but we also had fuzz bass, an odd combination of instruments which worked amazingly well together. I think it ties in nicely with the other song that I think captures our primary sound, “Morning, Morning,” which was the A side of that single with “Tomorrow is My Turn” on the flip side, back in the good old days when we had A sides and flip sides.

GM: When I listen to “Morning, Morning,” I think of The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.”

KE: There is a distinct similarity. The Monkees were actors portraying a band that we pretty much were. We used to slide down the Wadhams’ banister to get to our practice room, which sounds like a skit from one of their weekly shows. We practiced for hours there for our shows. After “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” we played a lot of packaged tours with other bands at big venues, with three or four other Top 40 acts, where the places were jammed with people going crazy for the music. It was an amazing time.

Fifth Estate Morning
Fifth Estate Tomorrow

The Fifth Estate

Flip side: Tomorrow is My Turn

A side: Morning, Morning

Debut: November 1967

Jubilee 45-5607 promo / JB 5607

GM: “Night on Fire” has more of a Simon & Garfunkel folk sound, plus brass.

KE: You can look at it that way. Our Simon was Wayne and our Garfunkel was Doug, who could sing the high notes, and this song was a little more rock and roll than most of Simon & Garfunkel’s hits. Lyrically, there were two sides of the band. We had our early teenage relationship lyrics with love songs and break-up songs. We also had more mature lyrics that had something relevant to say about what was going on at the time in the country.

GM: On the newer songs, from this century, you were joined by a legendary producer.

KE: Yes, Shel Talmy, who produced The Who and The Kinks in the 1960s and can be heard playing tambourine on our song “It’s Not Right.” He told us that it was the same tambourine that he used playing on “My Generation,” “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night.”

GM: “It’s Not Right” reminds me a bit of John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” and your drumming on “Supreme Confusion” is outstanding.

KE: Thank you so much for enjoying our new songs, too. With “Supreme Confusion,” I was inspired by my friend Bill Dumas from New London, Connecticut, who actually played “Wipe Out” over the phone while David Letterman’s band played along in New York City, and it came together powerfully. I wanted to achieve that same type of power they reached that night. In recording these newer songs as adults instead of being teenagers, we still wanted to capture the same sound that we embraced when we were young.

GM: “Liar’s Dance” has quite a full string sound.

KE: It is the modern age. In the 1960s if we wanted a string sound, we needed strings, now we get to synthesize strings with a keyboard, which is what Doug did on “Liar’s Dance.” That is another one of our topical songs. It is not a romance tune. With “Supreme Confusion” and “Liar’s Dance,” while we are not a political band, the lyrics reflect what is on our minds.

GM: “Enchanted” has some wonderful harmonies.

KE: Thank you, and those are the same background singers from “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead,” the exact same guys!

GM: After all the studio recordings, the new compilation ends with live tracks, of which my favorite is the powerful “I Wanna Shout!”

KE: The live tunes at the end is really what makes for the “deluxe” part of the Garunge Deluxe title. We wanted to add this finale to allow the listeners to imagine our young band playing live on stage with The Turtles, The Music Explosion, The Buckinghams, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Gene Pitney. The crowds were very vocal. It was a great time for playing music and getting feedback from the audience. Goldmine readers can find this new compilation, plus our other albums, at our website, highlighting how to purchase our music from different companies and how to listen to our music online. There will be more songs in the future too, as we are still working on new material. We have about half of a new album together so far and we are still a Connecticut rock and roll band, like Tony wrote about in his book. My wife Chris and I are here in Connecticut and our sons Kenny and Eric are in the state too. Kenny lives in Woodbury and is a great metal drummer in a band called Sacred Oath and Eric lives in Brookfield and is an attorney in Danbury, just a couple of towns away from our band’s original hometown. Thank you for spending time with me again, bringing up memories of fun times. It was a blast!

1967 photo courtesy of Ken Evans

1967 photo courtesy of Ken Evans

Related links:

thefifthestateband.com/albums

Goldmine interview Connecticut Rock 'n' Roll book with Ken Evans 2017

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