Monday, November 2, 2009

A Forgotten Hits Exclusive: Conversations With Merrell Fankhauser

The other day I received a phone call from our Forgotten Hits Buddy Joe Klein, offering me an EXCLUSIVE story and interview with Merrell Fankhauser, "the guy who wrote the surf instrumental classic 'Wipe Out'." (Joe's been busy working on his OWN thing with all these new Michael Jackson releases and, since "Wipe Out" falls PERFECTLY into our oldies thing here ... AND since we're right in the middle of tabulating your votes for your All-Time Instrumental Favorites ... he just figured that Forgotten Hits might make for a better "fit" to break this story ... although "Wipe Out" can HARDLY be considered a "Forgotten Hit". In fact, it's anything but ... it's a rock and roll CLASSIC that shot up the charts TWICE, first grabbing our attention back in 1963 at the peak of The Surf Craze, when the record went to #2 ... and then again three years later when "Wipe Out" RETURNED to The National Top Ten, peaking at #9 in Cash Box Magazine in 1966.

Now we've spent a little bit of time tracing back the history of "Wipe Out" before in Forgotten Hits ... and, quite honestly, Merrell's name has never even come up in any of those discussions ... but THIS time around, Merrell is promising us some brand NEW information that has never been published before. (In fact, we'll be "leaking" the details over the next several days here ... intermingled with some of our other regular features ... so check back often.)

All pretty exciting stuff!!! Meanwhile, here's Joe's first installment ... A Forgotten Hits EXCLUSIVE. (Special Thanks, "New Media Joe" ... from your buddy "Old Fart Kent"!!!) kk
Hi Kent,
Wow! It's kind of crazy but, at the same time, very cool, that a few of my long time, good friends have been involved with some of the most notable releases of sixties material to come out over the last couple of months! Four of ARTIE WAYNE'S songs appear in new compilation packages of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, and, of course, my old friend RUSS TERRANA just recently finished mixing eleven tracks for the new Jackson 5 album to be released on November 10, and we've reported to FH all about that!

But, wait, there's MORE! Back in late August, around the same time I was learning about the new Jackson 5 album from Russ, I got a call from another decades-long friend named MERRELL FANKHAUSER, who wrote the instrumental surf classic WIPE OUT late in 1961 (which has appeared on several Forgotten Hits favorite instrumental lists). Merrell had played with the surf band THE REVELS for several months in 1961 and, shortly after, wrote the classic surf tune. He then joined another one of the earliest California surf bands, THE IMPACTS, in 1962. This band recorded their first and only album for Del-Fi, which included the original version of Wipe Out and a cover of The Revels surf hit, CHURCH KEY.

Merrell called to tell me that another one of his songs, TOMORROW'S GIRL, was to be included on a new Rhino box-set collection called WHERE THE ACTION IS! LOS ANGELES NUGGETS 1965-1968, that was going to be released near the end of September. Merrell had also mentioned that he'd be going down to L.A. just after Halloween for a big publicity event for the new package, to be held at the fabled Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.

I congratulated Merrell, and moved on. Merrell's call and the new Rhino package then fell off my radar (darn it, I HATE when that happens), because I was about to make my Labor Day trip to Chicagoland (where I met you) and I had just learned from Russ that he was about to start mixing the new Jackson 5 tracks for Motown.

Several days ago, I was reviewing some emails that I'd received over the last several weeks and came across an email Merrell sent me a couple of weeks after we spoke on the phone. The email included a link to a cool radio interview Merrell had just done about the new Rhino compilation and also had a link to a YouTube video he put together for Tomorrow's Girl and posted on YouTube a couple of months ago after he first got the word about the song being in the Rhino package. Still very busy, I had filed that email away and let it slip through the cracks as well. Oops. Good thing I finally got to it just in the nick of time!

I listened to the radio interview and watched the video for Tomorrow's Girl. Even though I've known Merrell for decades, I've never heard this "Forgotten Almost Hit" before. It's a very cool song, very reminiscent of the psychedelic style of the glory days of the flower power era! I checked out the web page for the new Rhino package and the first thing I noticed on the track listing was that the artist for Tomorrow's Girl was shown as FAPARDOKLY (Merrell and the Exiles). Hmmm ... two artists for one track? What's this about? I decided to call Merrell and talk to him about the new compilation and the inclusion of his song in it.

Merrell told me that he is very excited about the compilation and feels a deep sense of pride that one of his own songs made the cut. "It really feels great to have this all but forgotten hit included on a package alongside such a great lineup of legendary acts from that era," Merrell says. "It's also great to be getting recognition for my own modest contributions to the music scene all these years later."

WHERE THE ACTION IS! LOS ANGELES NUGGETS 1965-1968 documents a pretty significant piece of pop music history. From the official web page for the album on the Rhino Records site, the producer of the compilation, ANDREW SANDOVAL, describes the project this way: “The Nuggets series is something of the alternative musical history of the 1960's. Not so much a survey of what happened, but more what could have happened had music charted on merit alone.”

The Rhino package is destined to become quite a collector's item in its own right. From the official web page, "Beautifully packaged in a coffee table book resembling the San Francisco Nuggets collection from 2006, the set provides a wealth of information about Los Angeles' music scene, including a comprehensive timeline, a listing of the clubs and who performed there, an essay about the L.A. radio stations that defined the era, plus a track-by-track commentary."

Included in the eclectic collection of tracks are never-before released demos of the songs "Sit Down I Think I Love You," recorded by Stephen Stills and Richie Furay and "Words," as recorded by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.

Here is the official page for the box set at the Rhino Records website:

Here's a link to the L.A. Times review of the package, published on September 30:

Another review from the L.A. Weekly:

Here's an interview with producer Andrew Sandoval, also from the L.A. Weekly, with several cool and obscure videos embedded on the page:

As for Merrell's own review of the new package, here's what Merrell had to say: "This package is REALLY SOMETHING! It's this great coffee table book with four CDs inside. The package itself is really eye catching. The way the pages are laid out is very cool. There are pages with vertical listings of each song, which include lots of information about the song, the group, where it was recorded, a bio of the group and a nice picture of the group. There are great collages and photo galleries of the legendary L.A. area clubs of the sixties, pictures of local L.A. radio station surveys and a whole lot more stuff!"

I asked Merrell about "Tomorrow's Girl" and how that song and record came to be. "During the four years in the mid-sixties while I was recording and playing clubs as Merrell and The Exiles, I was always writing new songs, hoping for that breakthrough hit. I wrote 'Tomorrow's Girl' late in 1966 and really thought that this song had the right stuff." He further explains, "Back in those days, the mentality of music executives was that you had to have a hit single. Without a hit, it was hard to justify spending the money to record a whole album. GLENN MACARTHUR, who owned the small label we recorded for, subscribed to this theory and only wanted to record singles, a couple of tracks at a time. He would release them with limited distribution and hope for the best."

I commented to Merrell that there must have been something special about "Tomorrow's Girl" from other tracks he was recording at the time that set it apart, leading to it being "discovered" for the new Rhino Nuggets collection. Merrell explains, "That's right. I felt this song was cooler than most of the others," he said. "That's why we decided to drive the 75 or so miles down to Hollywood and record it at a higher quality studio than the little studio Glenn had up in Palmdale. We recorded that track (and a song for the b-side of the single, called WHEN I GET HOME), at Audio Arts recording studio on Melrose Avenue in L.A. The recording engineer was Jim Hilton, who later worked at the fabled Gold Star Studios in Hollywood and went on to produce and record Iron Butterfly at the studio."

Merrell continues ... "The record really did turn out quite well, and we all thought it was one of the best tracks we had recorded. About a month after we recorded it, 'Tomorrow's Girl' was released as a single on Glenn's label. The song started to get lots of airplay at different radio stations around the country and started showing up on their charts. The trade magazines began mentioning the song as having hit potential. The song even made it on to Dick Clark's American Bandstand, and won the weekly Rate-A-Record contest in the spring of 1967."

Merrell then told me that he thought that the song didn't go on to make it on to the national record charts because of the very limited distribution of MacArthur's small label. "A couple of major labels were interested in the band, but Glenn just didn't want to make a deal with them." It's no real surprise that, shortly after recording "Tomorrow's Girl", the band became restless and started to go their separate ways. Band member Jeff Cotton joined up with Captain Beefhart. Merrell moved back to Pismo Beach in the spring of 1967 and formed a new band, which he named FAPARDOKLY. (He came up with the name by combining some of the initials of the new band's members.)

Early in the summer of 1967, a few months after "Tomorrow's Girl" had been released, MacArthur contacted Merrell and told him that, since the record had achieved some success he, finally, wanted to put out an album with all the best stuff Merrell and The Exiles had recorded up to that time. But there was a problem. Merrell and the Exiles had disbanded and now there was a new band.

Merrell explains, "Glenn wanted to release an album. He knew that there was now a new band, and he was ready to release it as a Fapardokly album. Glenn already had some previously unreleased Merrell and The Exiles tracks that we had recorded at his studio, the two we recorded at Audio Arts, and five additional tracks we had recorded back in 1966 with GARY S. PAXTON at one of his L.A. studios." The band (now Fapardokly) drove back up to Palmdale one last time to record a few more songs in Glenn's studio. "With all the tracks we then had, we still needed one more track to finish the album. I had a song called THE MUSIC SCENE which was very much in the new genre of the band. I wanted it to sound as good as possible for the record, so we drove back down to L.A. again and recorded the song at Gold Star in Hollywood."

As it turns out, Glenn chose five tracks recorded in his studio (two newer tracks recorded as Fapardokly and three older Merrell and The Exiles tracks), the two tracks recorded at Audio Arts, four of the five tracks recorded at Paxton's studio, and the track from Gold Star to make up the Fapardokly album. The songs recorded at Paxton's studio were done at a time when Merrell and The Exiles were in a transition period, so Merrell didn't necessarily consider those to be Merrell and The Exiles tracks. (In fact, there was no decision at the time what band name those tracks would ultimately be released under.) Technically speaking, then, there were really only three tracks that were recorded after Merrell formed Fapardokly. "When you take into account the musical history of the band, I've always thought it was fair to consider the songs recorded at Gary's studio in 1966 to be Fapardokly tracks, since we really never thought of them as Merrell and The Exiles tracks anyway," Merrell remarks. Adding those four tracks to the three actually recorded by Fapardokly brings the total to seven Fapardokly songs on the album, with the remaining five credited to Merrell and The Exiles. This eclectic mix was what was released as the Fapardokly album in the summer of 1967, with five of the twelve songs credited to Merrell and The Exiles. The four songs that were recorded at Gary S. Paxton's studio in 1966, the two tracks recorded in the summer of 1967 at the Glenn Records Studio and the one track recorded at Gold Star in the summer of 1967 are credited to the band Fapardokly. When it all shakes out, "Tomorrow's Girl" can be considered the last track recorded as Merrell and The Exiles and "The Music Scene" ended up being the last song recorded as Fapardokly.

Chalk it all up to being a great example of how crazy the music scene was back in the sixities, as bands evolved, personell changes occurred and it was often hard to keep track of just who was in who's band!

Only about 1,200 copies of the Fapardokly album were pressed up by MacArthur. According to Merrell, the band was not very happy with the package. They didn't like the album cover and had become wary of MacArthur's lack of distribution and resources and, most significantly, lack of royalty payments of any kind. As Merrell puts it, "We just put the albums away in our closets and moved on, changing our name to HMS Bounty when UNI signed us in 1968."

Merrell made a deal to buy back all the old tapes and albums from MacArthur in early 1991. In the years that followed, Merrell, who now owned the masters, made a couple of deals with compilation labels to release the album in the CD format. The Fapardokly album is still available on CD on Sundazed records to this day. That would be the end of the story of the song "Tomorrow's Girl", had it not been for the new Rhino package!

Last summer, Merrell was contacted by a licensing executive at Warner Brothers, who informed Merrell that the company wanted to license the song for an upcoming Rhino compilation package. Merrell agreed to license the track. A few weeks later, the project's producer, ANDREW SANDOVAL, called Merrell, telling him that he had found the song and really liked it.

"I was really blown away when Warners, who handles the licensing for Rhino, called me to license the song. I knew that it had a kind of cult status, but never expected such an obscure track like this to end up on a major compilation like this." He went on, "When Andrew (Sandoval) called me to tell me that he had found the song and really liked it, I was still pretty much freaked out by it all, so all I could say was 'That's great. Thank you so much!'"

I asked Merrell about the unusual "dual artist" track listing for the song. "Joe, it's the wildest thing," Merrell told me. "I didn't tell anyone at Warners or Rhino about the whole transition of Merrell and The Exiles into Fapardokly or the fact that we later considered the four songs recorded at Paxton's studio to be Fapardokly tracks. Still, when I spoke with the guy at Rhino who was working on the track listing and liner notes, he was already very familiar with the history of the bands, which kind of took me by surprise. On our phone call, we didn't come to any specific agreement as to how the artist for the song would be listed, and I just left it to the labels discretion. A few weeks later, when I saw the track listing, I was really happy to see that they listed both band names for the artist, and was just happy that they got it right!"

Here is a link to a video for Tomorrow's Girl that Merrell put together and posted on YouTube a couple months ago.

There are already rumors and buzz circulating about a possible Grammy nomination for the package in the specialty category, something that would thrill Merrell very much. "To have a track on any album that receives a Grammy nomination has been a life long dream," Merrell told me.

Just the announcement of this new compilation generated a considerable degree of interest amongst bloggers, the mainstream press, and radio, with some of it coming as quite a surprise to Merrell himself. "I've done over 60 radio interviews over the last couple of months, starting in the weeks before Rhino package came out. Some of the deejays are in their fifties, but most are in their thirties and forties. The wildest thing is that they all remember Fapardokly, this obscure little group from 1967 who only released one album on a very small label! It's amazing to me how important all of this sixties music still seems to be to all of these deejays that should be way too young to remember, or even know about any of this stuff."

One of the best interviews, according to Merrell, originally aired last month on WPKN-FM in Bridgeport / New Haven, CT and Montauk, NY. The interview was conducted by STEVE DICOSTANZO and ERIC COCKS on their weekly show called RADIO BASE CAMP which airs every Friday afternoon on the station, and is then available for listening in the stations archives online. You can hear the interview here:

Radio Base Camp focuses on music from the 1960's to the mid-1970's, including psychedelic, garage, British Invasion, folk / rock, surf, mod, roots of rock and roll ... and music that doesn't even have categories. Andrew Sandoval was interviewed last week about the Rhino package and, a few weeks back, an interview with FH fave rave TOMMY JAMES was featured on the show! Most of the shows are archived on the station's website. But here's a direct link to the show with the Andrew Sandoval interview:

On Sunday, November 1, Merrell attended a big shindig, video screenings and signing event for WHERE THE ACTION IS, hosted by Rhino at the fabled Greek Theater in Hollywood. He was amongst several artists from the package who were there to sign copies of the album for fans, along with Forgotten Hits regular contributor Billy Hinsche (Dino, Desi & Billy), Bobby Hart (Boyce & Hart), Van Dyke Parks, and Mark Tulin (The Electric Prunes). Merrell brought a camera man to the event, interviewed Andrew Sandoval and got some other video footage. He plans to include the video in an episode of his own cable television show, TIKI LOUNGE. Merrell has promised to give me an update in the next few days, which I'll pass on to Forgotten Hits poste haste!

Stay tuned to FORGOTTEN HITS for more about this cool story, and then stand by for the whole riveting story about one of the most classic instrumentals of all time, WIPE OUT, when I return with "THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF A SURF MUSIC LEGEND," coming soon, exclusively to FORGOTTEN HITS (and possibly a theater near you)!

Hope everyone had a Happy Halloween! Here's a pretty SCARY shot of Merrell and me, taken at his Pismo Beach "Tiki Lounge" in 2006!

"New Media Joe" Klein and Merrell in the Tiki Lounge!
Copyright 2009 New Media Creative

To visit Merrell's website, click here:

To read New Media Joe's company blog, click here:

To check out Artie Wayne's latest blog story about Merrell and the Rhino package:

More on this to come later in the week ... including the EXTREMELY rare recording of "Wipe Out", released two years BEFORE The Surfaris' version! Forgotten Hits has told many of the "Stories Behind The Songs" before over the years ... and most recently did in-depth pieces with Bobby Parker and John Madara, highlighting some of THEIR songwriting woes from the early years of rock and roll. This story, courtesy of Merrell Fankhauser and Joe Klein, should prove to be equally as interesting if not more so ... "Wipe Out" is an instrumental CLASSIC! Stay tuned to Forgotten Hits for more details! (kk)

Meanwhile, courtesy of Merrell Fankhauser, here's the very rare FAPARDOKLY track, "Tomorrow's Girl" that appears on the new Rhino Nuggest compilation box, WHERE THE ACTION IS!