Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Forging The Steel : An Exclusive Interview With One Of Heavy Metal's Founding Fathers, John Garner Of Sir Lord Baltimore

Formed in 1968, Sir Lord Baltimore stormed out of Brooklyn, New York with their debut release 'Kingdom Come' in 1970. SLB were a band ahead of their time. Playing a frenzied brand of heavy rock which was in stark contrast to the sounds which were extremely popular during the early 70's, the band put out two of the most molten slabs of heavy rock in '70's 'Kingdom Come' and '71's self titled follow up.

Featuring the incredible vocals of John Garner (also sitting behind the kit, becoming one of rock's first singing drummers ), this is a man who could literally sing the phone book and make it sound suitably heavy. Rounding things out was guitarist Louis Dambra(later joined by brother Joey on guitar for the 2nd album) and Jack Bruce influenced bassist Gary Justin, this was one of the best bands too many have never heard.

Discovered by manager Dee Anthony, who also helped launch the careers of Humble Pie, Free and Joe Cocker, a debut album mixed by Hendrix's right hand man Eddie Kramer, featuring the involvement of future Bruce Springsteen manager Mike Appel, who co-wrote and helped arrange all of the songs on their first LP, this is a band who deserved to be HUGE. So, why weren't they? Garner has blamed drugs, relatively low record sales and being ripped off monetarily as the factors in their eventual breakup, but it may be also that they were just ahead of their time.

Listen to "Lady Of Fire," from 'Kingdom Come' and you can hear where Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore snagged the riff to "Woman From Tokyo". The band was reportedly a huge influence on the fledgling KISS, namely Stanley and Simmons, who would regularly show up at their shows on Long Island. Add to the legend the fact that in a now legendary review of the first album in Creem Magazine, the first reference to "heavy metal" was used, all adding up to a story of a trio who while never getting their due in a commercial sense, one whose influence has spread throughout the years to mythic proportions.

Remarkably, some 30 years after the band's break-up, Garner and Louis Dambra have reunited to record and self-distribute a new album, 'Sir Lord Baltimore III Raw,' a slab of classic sludge metal true to the original sound. Over three decades may have passed, but the music contained on this release, the majority written back then, albeit a bit raw (hence the name) is classic proto metal. Produced by Garner, the six tracks on display here show conclusively that even after three decades, the man hasn't lost a step vocally. While contemporaries such as Gillan, Plant and Daltrey are showing their age, the vocals here are nothing short of revelatory. While recently recorded, they're vital enough to have been laid down thirty years ago. Joined on this trek by ex Firm bassist Tony Franklin, who contributed most of the bass parts, with guitarist Anthony Guido and bass player Sam Powell as guest musicians, this is a true trip to rock's heavy past.

Recently I had the fantastic opportunity to catch up with Garner at his home in Staten Island, where we discussed the past, present and future of one of heavy rock's most legendary bands. Read on as we have an illuminating, exclusive discussion about the past, present and future with Mr. Sir Lord Baltimore himself, John Garner....

A very BIG thanks to John Garner for doing this interview.

Interview and text by Keith Langerman © Nightwatcher's House Of Rock

November 1st, 2007

Nightwatcher's House Of Rock: First off John, we'd like to thank you for taking the time out to talk with us, it's an honor...

John Garner :
Ah, it's a pleasure!

NHOR : After over thirty years, you and guitarist Louis Dambra have a new Sir Lord Baltimore album, 'Sir Lord Baltimore III Raw' out on your own JG label. What were the events which transpired to bring this about, and what led you to release a new album after all these years?

JG : Well, we had a fellow who was a well to do, entrepreneurial guy, Randy Pratt, who loved Sir Lord Baltimore as a teenager. He wanted to raise the Phoenix from the ashes if you will. I stayed with The Lizards for 6 and a half years, toured Europe twice, then quit due to irreconcilable and artistic differences.

NHOR : Are you pleased with the response you're getting for the new material? It seems to be getting an extremely favorable response from critics...

JG : Oh yeah. How could it not, it sounds great. I'm singing better than normal, the drums I played on it were from 2000, and I'm a much better drummer now, because as you know I was with The Lizards for 5 years not playing the drums. Now I play drums even better. John Garner's Sir Lord Baltimore is going to be extreme. Louis unfortunately will not be part of it because he's a born again preacher who can't afford to leave his church or his job. Which is finding homes for the homeless. This is a good thing, but also too bad, because other people can find homes for the homeless, but nobody plays guitar like he does.

I should have known this from the beginning. You know, when you meet up with people, become partners, you figure they're going to take on the same responsibilities that you take on. I put the band together, arranged the meetings between the minds. I also was the promo guy who answered the ad in The Village Voice and met Mike Appel, who loved us so much I thought he was gay. (Laughs) Then we made the 'Kingdom Come' album, and the rest is history. Ever since then it's been, "John, you've got to do this...John, you've got to do that". I never wanted to be the leader of Sir Lord Baltimore, I was made the leader of Sir Lord Baltimore. Quite honestly, I didn't like being put in that position. I think if we're partners, that each one should have an equal corresponding job to accomplish. But, it wasn't like that. The other two guys were into writing...and smoking. The writing, smoking and the ball busting. (Laughs)

NHOR : There's been some controversy among fans John due to you changing the lyrics on the original recordings for the material for 'Raw' reflecting a more Christian based mindset. Really though, if you listen to say "Kingdom Come" from the first album or "Man From Manhattan" from the second, it's not much different in direction lyrically speaking from those two songs....

JG : Even though I'm not like Louis in the fact that he is much more into the religious aspect of what we were trying to do with the positive lyrics, which I wrote all of them on 'Sir Lord Baltimore III,' I believe in Jesus. And even if I didn't believe in Jesus, you'd have to believe in his logic. Which is a message of love. It's a beautiful thing, it really is. If people want to scoff at you for that, it's so idiotic. I saw how the metal scene has become with the heavy satanic influences, vampirism and demonic possession type shock values. I looked and went, "Wow, this has pretty much encompassed the whole art of heavy metal." I'm against it. I'm fighting against it.

Heavy metal doesn't have to be dark depictions of vampires, ghosts and demons. So, we're playing heavy, and put a positive message across. I'm not ramming religion down people's throats. I'm just saying that when I was young I did stupid things. I looked to Jesus, straightened out my life, and things are better now. That's it. It's just like saying, "Hey man, I had mental problems when I was younger, saw a psychiatrist, he showed me the error of my ways and now I'm better". That's the basic, positive message I'd like to pass along.

What's original bassist Gary Justin been doing, and why was he not involved at all in the new album?

JG :
Gary was asked, but declined. Why? Well, he was working on Wall Street. Gary was one of the most calm guys in the band. He was extremely pleasant and easy going. You never saw him have a fit of anger. Then, just one day he picked up his beautiful Fender Precision bass and threw it at Louis. (Laughs) First of all, to throw a Precision bass at someone in the 70's, you'd have to be pretty pissed off. And if you're normally a very sedate, calm kind of fellow, you've really got to be super pissed off. (Laughs) I'm laughing because it was so ridiculous. Louis was not easy to control, so we had to deal with that, Gary and I.

I was asked to leave by Mike Appel for professional reasons and they went out with the music to California. Gary was living the fast lane, and he saw the plasticity of the California scene. The music business, drugs, cocaine...all that garbage that was going on out there. When he finally came back, it was like somebody running away from something to save their life. He just dropped out of the music scene completely. Then he got married, and his wife worked on Wall Street, he got a job there, and he's been working there for 22 years. He was asked by Randy himself, at a very expensive dinner in Manhattan to be part of Sir Lord Baltimore again and he still declined.

NHOR : Does he still play at all?

JG : No, he doesn't play anymore. Gary and I wrote a very beautiful ballad back in the late 70's that could've been on a Sir Lord Baltimore album, in the same vein as "Lake Isle of Innersfree". But I think it's even better. I told him, "Gary, there's no bass part on that". We had a really old recording of it, and it was really bad. I told him I had a keyboard friend come over, laid down a fresh track, and I laid down a fresh drum track and sang it. I said, "Hey man, why don't you just come over and lay down a bass track?" He said, "Oh John, I haven't played in 18 years". I said, "So what? You're going to be sitting in my kitchen laying down a bass part. I'm not going to judge you. It's like riding a bike, just do it". He went, "Oh no," and that was it.

Louis and I worked very hard to make 'III Raw' done, and I took my job's vacation time to be in California. I can't begin to tell you how hard I worked to get this album out. I had to jump and climb over every inch of diversity. #1, The equipment I needed to make it. #2, Not having the multi tracks. #3, Not knowing how to build my own web site. I had to go out, buy a digital workstation, and learn how to work it. Which I was pretty good at. I had to buy all kinds of stuff. I got on the Internet because I didn't want to pay some web site maker $1,000 to make a relatively simple, generic web site. So, I learned how to do it myself. I worked very hard to make stereo reference tracks sound good from something that had extreme amounts of bass on it. To the point where it was so overwhelming that I had to do something. Because the multi tracks were kept from me, I did it with expanders, compressors and EQ's.

NHOR : The album features a significant contribution from ex Firm/Blue Murder bassist Tony Franklin, who contributed most of the bass parts. How did you get hooked up with Tony? Was he a fan of the band prior to coming into the studio to play the parts?

JG : Tony Franklin is a friend of an old friend of mine from the neighborhood, Joey Carbone. He was the band leader for 'Star Search'. He was out in California. I was out in California because Louis lives out there. I was out there re-recording old songs to do 'Sir Lord Baltimore III Raw'. We started off actually with Tim Bogert, but he wasn't satisfactory. He had a head trip going on, and was a bit difficult to get along with. So, we had to replace the possibility of him doing it with us. So, I made a phone call to Joey Carbone, who referred Tony Franklin to us. Once Randy heard about Tony being involved he just loved it. He said, "Oh my God, Tony Franklin, I love him to death". He paid him even more than what's normal because he likes him. He's just that kind of guy. If he likes you he'll pay you more than you're worth. (Laughs)

NHOR : You recorded a lot of the album in Randy's studio didn't you?

JG : No, 'Raw' was mainly recorded in California. Some overdubs were done at Randyland. You're not going to believe me when I tell you this, but this CD was made from stereo samples that I had taken home as reference material for myself. I worked extremely hard on these stereo reference CD's to make them sound good. I bought a digital work station, and had to fix, tweak...believe me, I spent hours and hours on it because it wasn't satisfactory at all in its natural state. When you're trying to affect one instrument and four others are attached to it. You can't separate them, and you have to use magical EQ's and settings to make things stand out with expanders and compressors. I think I did a pretty good job considering.

NHOR : Going back to the beginning John, what was the defining moment when you decided to become a musician?

JG : Well, I'm not going to attribute ALL of my yearnings and wanting to be a musician to hearing The Beatles back in the day but a lot of it has to do with them. The Beatles were not individually musical virtuosos, but together they sounded fabulous. They influenced many people to become musicians back in that era to realize, "Hey, I could be a musician too, I don't have to learn to play scales, know theory, or all of that". I just sat down on the drums, started playing, and that was the end of it. Of course there was a natural love for drums that I had. I took my first set of drums, when I was 11 years old...well, I couldn't fit the whole set in my bed, but I took my tom tom to bed with me. (Laughs)

Then, I was in a band which did all British Invasion music...The Rolling Stones, Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers, The Animals... all those groups. We did a lot of cover stuff. There was one guy in that band who was fabulous. His name was Tony Anthony Amatrano, he knew 150 of those songs, and he sang them all. And, I had to start singing harmony, so that's when I started to sing. I always sang in school. In 6th grade my teachers told me I had a good voice, and they expected to hear my name in the annals of music. When I graduated 6th grade, I was in the Glee club, but not in a band until later. That's how that started.

NHOR : Who were your influences as a drummer?

JG : Right from the get go, at the age of 11, I was listening to the Buddy Rich/Max Roach album, 'Rich Versus Roach'. I listened to that, and of course the drummers in the British invasion bands who were coming in. Then, little discoveries of people like Bernard Purdie, Ginger Baker with The Cream was fabulous, and my favorite, Mitch Mitchell with Jimi Hendrix. John Bonham and Clive Bunker, the first drummer from Jethro Tull I thought were excellent. Then when jazz fusion started coming in there were guys like Tony Williams,and Bill Bruford had a great band as well. I used to go see them down at The Bottom Line in The Village. He just blew me away. He was just so good.

NHOR : What about vocally? I know you mentioned The Beatles but who else was a big influence on your style?

JG : Well, when I was 8, 9 years old, I had 7 brothers and sisters, they always listened to music, and I listened to all the great stuff that used to come out from the black singers. Sam Cooke, Chubby Checker with "The Twist". All the Motown singers were great. Nobody beat those guys. Jack Bruce from The Cream was a big influence vocally. The Beatles sure. I used to really dig Eric Burdon. I used to listen to a lot of Animals. Actually I hang out with a few now. (Laughs)

NHOR : Sir Lord Baltimore was formed in 1968 in Brooklyn, and as such you can lay claim to being one of the first true heavy metal bands. How did the band come together? I know you, guitarist Louis Dambra and bassist Gary Justin met in high school. What's the story of Sir Lord Baltimore's formation?

JG : I met Louis in front of the high school. I said, "Let's sit in the car and talk. I've heard about you. Let's jam". He said, "I've heard about you too". Gary went to another school, we saw him play in a group in the gymnasium. I sort of liked his style, and I went up to him and said, "Hey man, me and my friend Louis are going to jam, we'd like you to come down". So, I got that together too actually. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, those are just facts.

Then, we're practicing, and we haphazardly put together 4 songs. I sang and screamed wherever I wanted to. It was more like a controlled jam if you will. Then, I picked up The Village Voice, saw an ad that said, "Heavy Group Needed To Record Album". So, we went to Manhattan, to a studio called 'Smile Studio'. We set up, plugged in, and we met Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos. We played in front of them, and they just loved us because they saw raw energy, something they could shape into what they believed something should be. They helped a lot. But they could've done more. They could've put our names down as writers, but they didn't which is why we never got any money. But, what ya gonna do?

NHOR : As you just mentioned, the band auditioned for Mike Appel, who later went on to manage Bruce Springsteen. Mike somewhat took you under his wing at the time, reportedly being responsible for coming up with the name Sir Lord Baltimore and co writing and producing the first album. What do you feel that he brought to the situation?

JG : Mike Appel was a force to be reckoned with. He was very aggressive, and he generated happiness and fun. He was very articulate in what he thought in the creative process. They wrote the right lyrics for the music. Obviously they didn't write the melodies, I did. I got no credit for that, but I was 18 years old and I was a dummy. All the stuff from the 'Kingdom Come' album was done when I was 18 years old.

NHOR : Also during the sessions for 'Kingdom Come,' according to Mike Appel, Pink Floyd came by and visited during the recording, and were reportedly very impressed by the band. Do you remember them coming by, and if so, what was your impression of them?

JG : Yes. We were doing the song that Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos wrote, which was "Lake Isle of Innersfree". As we were doing it, playing and singing it, Pink Floyd walked into our studio session. They introduced themselves, and we said, "Hello, how ya doin'". They hung out, I started singing, and we were overdubbing a harpsichord at the same time.

Yes, they were there. I just thought that they were a band that came in. They hadn't really done anything yet. They were just people. Who knew that they were going to be tremendous? It was a magical time though, '68, '69-'70...up to '75. After that, to be honest with you I didn't even want to listen to music because everything by then was just a copy.

NHOR : You were one of the first drummers who were also lead vocalists in rock. How did you develop that?

JG : You know how they say that need is the mother of invention? That's what happened. The need came up, my friends said, "Hey John we need you to sing". I said, "Okay man". It wasn't really my thing. Just playing the drums was my thing. I loved playing the drums. I've got to be proud and say to myself Thank God that fate has given me a classic cult album under my belt. I would never think that would happen to me. I thought it was very sophomoric playing on that. I always wanted to improve it. Because when I first heard Led Zeppelin's first album, there you go. There's an album where every note's in place, no mistakes here or there, it's tight. We were a little all over the place. But I guess that was the good thing about it because people sort of dug that, the raw nature of it.

NHOR : You guys were definitely ahead of your time with the album...

JG : There was the problem. People used to say, "You guys are great but you're 10 years ahead of your time". Well, it's not doing me any good NOW pal. (Laughs) I guess it was a sad, profound thing that we were 10 years ahead of our time. Who knows if the big chief up in the sky said "Sir Lord Baltimore, you guys are young, I love you. If you make it big, you're going to kill yourselves". Relax. I'm making you relax, and this is how I'm doing it. I believe in God, and I went through a lot of shit and should be dead at least three or four times. We went through the drug era, but if it wasn't that it would've been something else. Because Dee Anthony wasn't answering our calls anymore. He probably ascertained that he threw us in the ocean, we didn't swim, so it's time to move on.

NHOR : Speaking of Dee Anthony, how did you get hooked up and what was your relationship like with him?

JG : We met Mike Appel, and he was a pretty young whippersnapper back then too. He was a staff writer for the Wes Farrell Organization. They wrote a lot of songs for The Partridge Family, stuff like that, bubblegum songs, advertising jingles and things like that. So, he was a veteran in that respect. When he saw us he loved us, and he said he knew he could mold us into something. And he did.

We couldn't have been what we were without Mike. He was like an integral member of the band actually. Moreso than his sidekick Jim Cretecos. But he brought us to Dee Anthony. We were recording in a pretty nice studio in New Jersey, then all of a sudden we were in Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland Studios. Which was pretty groovy. With Eddie Kramer, Hendrix's producer. Fate was shining on us. We were young, stupid kids that didn't realize that these things are rare. Dee was a bread and butter guy. His attitude was throw it on a conveyor belt to the next station. If somebody didn't make it by the next station, then it was no good..."Next! Let's do something else".

He was representing Joe Cocker and Humble Pie, Peter Frampton and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. So, he was a big dude with a lot of big connections. Sir Lord Baltimore was something that he was hoping for, and I guess after awhile when it didn't splash down because we were ahead of our time, he decided to forget about us. But he claimed all the revenues and rights to any future monies. Because we were dumb and we signed away stuff. He was a strong arm type of guy, not really a musician. He didn't really know how to be a manager, he just put things in place. He was powerful like that. He had people moving them around. If it didn't stick, he moved on to the next project.

As for Mike, he discovered us as a young producer, then brought us to Dee Anthony, who did what he did, which was move mountains. We were supposed to make sure the mountain stayed in place, but we were young. I was 18 when we got signed and recorded the first album. To my surprise it's lasted this long, and is becoming a cult classic.

NHOR : You were just touching upon the fact that during the recording of the first album, there were a number of overdubs and additional tracks which were mixed at Electric Ladyland by Eddie Kramer, who's most well known for producing Hendrix, Zeppelin and later on KISS. What was it like working with Eddie? Did you or the rest of the band have a lot of interaction with him during those mixing sessions?

JG : Yes. We spent many hours mixing as did Mike. We were giving him our viewpoints, but basically he was very much in control. He was very easygoing and a pleasure to work with. Very nice. We were at the mixing session one night and Jimi called up. Eddie Kramer, in the middle of our session, turned down all the volume, and we were quiet while he was talking with him. And there was no doubt that one day soon that we would've been friends with him. But then he never made it back from England. It's a shame because we would've got along famously.

NHOR : Before the recording of the first album, the band played its debut performance at New York's prestigious Carnegie Hall. Although reportedly that was an unpaid performance, that's very impressive, especially for a band who didn't even have an album out at the time. How did that all come about, and what was that experience like for you?

JG :
It was actually a paid performance. How could it be unpaid? Dee Anthony had such a long arm, and he was working with Free. This is what I heard, and we never saw the money...Dee Anthony got $750 for that gig. It was mind bending. To play Carnegie Hall? C'mon man. In retrospect, a big mistake. We were pumped up. (Laughs) We were so pumped up that Gary got so excited he ran across the stage twice, and twice he pulled out his bass cord. Embarrassing eh? Louis was so nervous his right leg was shaking. He couldn't stop it from shaking. He had to get on his knees and do the "get on your knees" guitar solo thing. Just to stop his leg from shaking. I wasn't even 19 yet. That was on January 20th, and I turned 19 on February 2nd. People work all their lives...study all their lives to play there, and here we are, not even 19 years old, playing Carnegie Hall.

NHOR : That's amazing. Most bands start off slugging it out in clubs, and here you are playing your first ever public gig at Carnegie Hall...

JG : Sick, right? (Laughs)

NHOR : Speaking of another gig that's been mentioned in print...In February of 1971, the band played consecutive nights at Bill Graham's Fillmore East, opening up a bill which included the J.Geils Band and Black Sabbath. In the late Bill Graham's autobiography 'Bill Graham Presents : My Life Inside Rock And Out' which came out in 1993, there were some references to the band being the worst that ever played the Fillmore. What's your opinion of that, and what are your recollections of those shows? Obviously you must not have been that bad, since afterwards you went on tour with Black Sabbath. Were those shows really that bad, or did Graham just not get the band?

JG : First of all, the gigs weren't bad at all. What happened was, Louis caused a little animosity with the workers at The Fillmore. What would that be you might ask? Louis wanted to go outside just before we had to go on. To buy a Coke, get some fresh air...I don't know why. He went out, and the guy wouldn't let him back in. You can imagine the anxiety this caused Louis. "What are you talking about you're not letting me in? I have to play this set! I'm playing here tonight!" He started getting nuts with the guy now. The guy was Chip Cohen, the manager of The Fillmore.

So basically Louis got nasty with him, "I'm gonna have you fired! Don't you know who I am?" Then it just got bad, and of course they gave us the finger in anything they said about us after that. Basically it was just a stupid little thing in life that happens with many people who brushed up against the wrong person, who was in a position of power to say some bad things about you. That's it. But we were great that night. We were ahead of our time. People didn't know what we were about, so when they heard us then they'd say, "Oh, they're no good, they're not this, they're not that". They didn't have the insight to realize that we were ahead of our time.

NHOR : Speaking of Black Sabbath, after the shows mentioned before, the band went on tour with Sabbath for numerous dates of the 'Paranoid' tour. What was that like for you, and what are your recollections of touring with the band?

JG : My recollections are this : #1, I thought they were a very good band. I thought we kicked their ass, but I thought they were very good. #2, Ozzy was a lot of fun, and Bill Ward was a very nice fellow. Geezer and Tony, they were stand-offish and snobbish, and I didn't care for them.

We played The Virginia Dome, in Virginia obviously, and I don't know the exact attendance, but I believe it was over 5,000. The place was packed. At that time our manager had procured some sort of deal with Black Sabbath's manager where we could use their PA system. We started to play, and the people started to love us. Absolutely LOVE us. They were going crazy. Boom! The lights went out. Boom! The power went out. That happened three times. Then, when they went on, it didn't happen at all. Because they were insecure that we would steal the show, they sabotaged us 3 times and pulled the plug on us.

You know what? I had just turned 19, and I'm into love, peace and happiness. I wasn't looking to hurt anybody. I would never think that somebody would be that treacherous to do something that terrible to somebody else. Now, I know better. But at the time I was so naive that it took me until years later to realize that actually happened. I was actually believing that it happened accidentally. I wasn't thinking of foul play at all. Later on, as I got wiser, I realized, "What, am I kidding myself? These guys pulled the plug". It wasn't very nice, and ever since then I didn't like them. Now, my friend Vinnie Appice plays drums for them. (Laughs)

NHOR : You just mentioned getting along with Ozzy during that time. What was he like during those dates?

JG : Ozzy was very personable, a very nice fellow. Took a lot of pills. Smashed a lot of monitors with the base of his microphone, but other than that he was a very nice fellow. We hung out with them a minuscule amount, but we didn't really hang out that much. We went to their room once, I think we blew a j, but there's not really much to that actually.

Then, one time at the Time/Life building in Manhattan, at the top floor there was a party at the penthouse apartment. We were invited, Sir Lord Baltimore, and the boys came in a little late. Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi walked in with Frank Zappa. They're sitting at a table, a couple tables away from the Sir Lord Baltimore table, and I just went over being friendly. I'm not a groupie, not looking for an autograph or anything, we're peers. That's how I felt anyway. I said, "Hey man, how ya doin'? How's everything? Nice to see you". They acted snobby, briefly acknowledged my presence, and weren't cordial at all.. I just left. (Laughs) They weren't nice at all.

NHOR : A couple of those dates were with Fleetwood Mac headlining. This was just after that band had lost guitarist Jeremy Spencer, who disappeared in the middle of their tour to join The Children Of God cult, and were finishing out the tour with Peter Green once again on guitar, who had been convinced, despite his mental problems at the time to help the band complete the U.S. tour. From accounts of those shows, the band, due to Green's refusal to play any of their hits, mainly consisted of extended jamming. What were those shows you played like? Did you stay around to check out the headliners?

JG :
If you could put yourself in the vernacular of how that might have been like...for instance, you just played, what are you going to do? Go out in the audience where there's no seats and mingle with the people? That wasn't really done. At any rate, from backstage we could watch them. I watched them for a little bit, but I was so excited, just looking to get it on with things. The excitement of the situation. That was at The Detroit Theater. Man, was it exciting.

There were these 3 huge doors backstage, with an armed guard at each door because people were trying to bang them down and come in. Detroit's a pretty violent city. People were hanging off the balconies, and the place was packed. There was a lot of security, and these guys had rifles. So, it was kind of exciting. (Laughs) They played, but for me to tell you note for note what they played, what songs they played I couldn't tell you. I wasn't that astute at that. I thought they were great, I loved listening to them, but I didn't know the politics of what was happening.

NHOR : Sir Lord Baltimore is one of those bands, who although you didn't sell millions of albums while the band was still together, have become extremely influential amongst metal and hard rock musicians over the years. When was it that you first started to realize the impact you had? Have there been any musicians who have come to you letting you know just what an influence the band has been on them?

JG : Only on the Internet. The double CD had come out in '94, and that caused me a huge amount of anxiety. I wanted to get a band together to be Sir Lord Baltimore. But Gary wasn't available, neither was Louis, and I was trying to find people to fill their shoes. I wasn't successful. I had a few players, but some people have head trips. I know a lot of eccentric musicians who are eccentric to a fault. (Laughs)

It didn't work, then I started playing drums in a church believe it or not. I had received some religious instruction, so I did that, and it stopped my anxiety actually. I met Joey Dambra again, and he was going to this church, and I ended up singing in the church choir. Which I never did before, and it was an excellent experience. Then, I just forgot about it again. But people wouldn't let me alone with it. We just wanted to put it to sleep because it hurt so bad. But, it was something that wouldn't go to sleep. So, I put out this third album. I even built the web site, and I didn't know squat about computers. (Laughs)

NHOR : You've also been cited as the "father of stoner rock". How does that make you feel?

JG : Stoned. (Laughs)

NHOR : How much of a factor were drugs in the breakup of Sir Lord Baltimore the first time?

JG : I think they were instrumental, because I was doing different drugs than Louis and Gary. They were still doing drugs, but back then cocaine and wacky weed were acceptable, but I was doing weed and heroin. That wasn't acceptable. So, it came to a head, and I had to leave. They went out to California, supposedly to continue the Sir Lord Baltimore tradition, and they came up extremely short. They went in a crazy direction, totally unlike Sir Lord. Mike Appel was doing it with them out there. And Mike was involved in litigation with Bruce Springsteen at the time, so he couldn't really concentrate on anything but the outcome of how the litigation would affect his status as producer and manager, songwriter etc. of Bruce.

NHOR : What do you feel are the reasons behind the band not having the success which you deserved?

JG : Unfortunately people weren't ready for us. We were too quick...too fast, furious, whatever you want to call it. People were listening to more slow, plodding sounds like Sabbath and Grand Funk . Most people could relate to them because of how slow they played, and how really easy it is to do their riffs. We were going a mile a minute. I believe there are a lot of bands out there who could squeeze about 4 or 5 albums out of our first album, as far as riff content went. On the second album, I wrote a song called "Loe and Behold," and I knew we were passing people by really quick. We went their heads, and they couldn't really dig on what was going on too quickly. So I just tried to slow it down a bit with that song. That was easier for people to digest.

NHOR : On the second album, 'Sir Lord Baltimore' you did temper the sound a bit, with the songs being relatively more mainstream heavy rock if you will, with the addition of Louis Dambra's brother Joey joining on second guitar. Was the change in direction a natural progression for the band at the time, or was it an attempt to become more popular, as that was more in line with what was hitting the charts at the time?

JG : We had a different producer too, John Linde, and his style was different from where we were headed. We needed Mike. Mike was an integral member of the band. But we went into a direction we really shouldn't have went to. But, "Woman Tamer" and "Caesar LXXI," those were great tunes. "Chicago Lives" ain't bad. The other side was more of a conceptual depiction of how Christ would be treated if he came back to New York in 1971. None of us were really religious per se back then at all, but I think that our producer at the time influenced that direction. It was pretty cool. "Man From Manhattan" was a pretty good piece of music.

But, people were disappointed because they wanted to hear more of the first album stuff. Basically that's what happened with that. I know for a fact that had we stayed together and grew with one another, without being crazy, we would've been a household name today, and would've made the big time. Back then in the 70's everybody was getting high. Nobody knew how bad it could be. People, if they're fooling around, really have to be careful.

We had no warning signs back then. Now people do, so they know the dangers involved. But had we not gotten involved with addiction, Sir Lord Baltimore would've been huge. I'd venture to say as big as Zeppelin maybe, IF we'd stayed together and evolved.

I believe that so much, that when the band broke up, it extremely depressed me, because Sir Lord Baltimore represented everything I wanted to accomplish in my musical career. It was my dream, my vision. I started the band, got the guys together, had a lot to do with the direction of what was going on. But unfortunately people don't know these things. I had a lot to do with the riff writing too. Just because I don't play guitar doesn't mean I can't write riffs. I sing them with my mouth. Louis used to grab a few of them that way. Louis was always a master riffer himself, but there were times when I would interject and say, "Hey man, do this". He'd do it, then the songs would come together.

NHOR : After the release of 'Sir Lord Baltimore' you started work on the songs which were supposed to be for the third album. None of that was released until the tracks which are on this 'III :Raw" album. What were the circumstances behind those not being released at the time?

JG : We were with Mike Appel, and he was picking up the tab on us. He obviously made some money from Bruce Springsteen, so he had some dough. He had a nice office on 54th street between Park and Lexx in New York City. It was called Laurel Canyon. We were up there with him writing the third album. We were doing good, really good. We would've had a smokin' album. I actually have a few tunes that nobody's ever heard before, but what happened was we were recording and recording them, and two years passed by. I go to Mike and say, "Hey Mike, what's going on man? What are we going to do here?" He sat me down in his office and said, "You know what? You remind me of Bruce Springsteen. You've always got to be doing something, making your own decisions." I said, "Well, there's nothing wrong with that Mike, I'm trying to get ahead here". He was making all kinds of excuses. Louis and Gary might have known about it, because they didn't even try to stop that from happening. But, basically he let me go. I blame myself, because at that time I was doing a little too many drugs.

Then they went to California, and I heard that they got a timbale player. Can you imagine Sir Lord Baltimore with a timbale player? I'm hearing Louis play through a Leslie, I'm hearing a timbale player, I'm hearing Gary playing an acoustic guitar. It was like a modern version of Cat Stevens. The whole sound changed, and it was totally off kilter. They were totally misguided. They were trying to continue Sir Lord without me, and they went in a totally crazy direction.

I don't like to toot my own horn, but Sir Lord Baltimore wouldn't have been Sir Lord Baltimore if I wasn't there. I gave the band direction. Mike also let me go because the guys would never confront him. They would always ask me to take the leadership role, and I'd be the heavy. It'd be like "John, you've got to do this, talk to Mike because we need this". I didn't want that job, but it was thrust upon me.I don't know. Then, the band broke up, and that was it. Then, a lot of years passed by, and I tried to get the guys organized again to at least come up with some dough to get a lawyer and sue some people, but they weren't excited about it. They didn't want to do it, they just wanted to put it to rest and forget about it. Meanwhile, people are selling our albums all over the world and we're not making anything. Everybody's stealing our stuff.

Then this guy Randy Pratt calls me, and I screened calls back then. He called me 50 times, no exaggeration, and I'd listen and screen his calls. I said, "I don't want to re-open this wound again". This was a bad thing. Sir Lord Baltimore was like a broken dream, a broken heart. Now I've got this guy calling me 50 times in a row telling me how great we are, the world has to hear us, I'm looking to back you and put you out there again. So, on the 51st call, I said, "I'd better pick this up because this guy isn't going to stop".

So, I picked up, then I went to meet with him at his apartment on 14th street in Manhattan somewhere. It was kind of unusual, because I wasn't used to this adoration I was getting. It'd been so long. They all greeted me at the door like I was some sort of tremendous, big rock star. Which I never thought I was. They wanted me to sign their albums, they were talking with me. So he convinced me to do it, because he had money and he said he'd pay me. He actually didn't pay me to go to California and work with Louis, but he paid all the expenses. As that went on Louis was kind of dragging his feet not really showing the proper enthusiasm, because he's now a pastor, working for the housing for the homeless people in Los Angeles.

Louis' availability wasn't that much at all. Everything was running around his schedule. He was working 5, 6 days a week. So the only time we could get together was at night. I was working at that time too, I had 5 weeks vacation, and I used most of it just to go out there and do that. So I was sacrificing, and I wasn't even making any dough there because I wasn't getting paid by Randy to do that. It was going slowly. Then Randy asked me to sing for The Lizards, and I thought it was a good idea to keep myself in shape vocally and drum wise. So we put out two or three albums, played live a few times, but underneath it was "Oh yeah, Sir Lord Baltimore's going to come out man. Don't worry", said Randy.. Because now by this time Sir Lord's gotten so far under my skin that the old feeling was strong again, and I had to do it. That's opening up an old wound, so if we're going to do this, let's do it. So, it looked like Louis was dragging his feet so much it was really getting slow.The Lizards were progressing and progressing, as far as making a lot of okay albums. I'd rather have one above average, special album than three okay ones.

NHOR : In 2004, with The Lizards, during a gig in Stourbridge, England when you were on tour with Vanilla Fudge, Robert Plant got together with you and jammed with the band on a cover of Cactus' "Parchman Farm". What was that experience like for you?

JG : It was very cool. First of all, I was sitting, and had a hat on, I have a goatee, with a flashy shirt, and he comes up these 4 stairs to enter our dressing room, and for some reason he did a double take on me. I noticed it right away, he probably thought I was John Bonham for a second. That's what I attributed his double take to, because I guess I could look like him quickly. Especially with a hat, since Bonham liked to wear hats.

He came in, he was very nice, and was genuinely happy to see Carmine Appice, because The Fudge had the big misfortune of having Led Zeppelin open up for them. They just got blown away. Vanilla Fudge were great, I enjoyed them a lot, especially when I was a kid. I was 16 years old, and my friend had just purchased the Vanilla Fudge album.

Carmine did a lot of great things which were very prestigious. I would've preferred if he would've written a totally original song that was a big hit. Because none of them wrote many original songs, and that's where the dough is. You get the publishing, and you'll make dough while you're sleeping. (Laughs) He's done some great music. He did 'Guitar Zeus', and that was wonderful. Great guitar players, and that was a great album. Carmine really busted me up. I couldn't believe how good he was on that. He's a veteran, and I'm never taking any of that away from him. He's strong, and he and his brother Vinnie grew up 10 blocks away from where I lived.

NHOR : Was Plant aware of your work in Sir Lord Baltimore? Did you two talk about that at all?

JG : No, we didn't at all. Of course, he and Carmine were talking more, because he knew Carmine from the first tour they did together. So, it was a very memorable occasion for the both of them. I don't even know if he knew I was in Sir Lord Baltimore.

You know how it is when there's a lot of people around, especially with a big star like Plant. How do you get a word in edge-wise? So, I just chilled out. I've never been one to ask big stars questions. But what actually happened was one of the roadies ran up to me all flustered, and said, "John! John! You've got to sing "Parchman Farm". Tim (Bogert) isn't feeling well. He's an excellent bass player. Randy actually suggested that Tim Bogert be the bass player for Sir Lord Baltimore's third album, but to be nice about it, I'll just say that it didn't work out. (Laughs). At any rate, we replaced him with Tony Franklin, and Tony was a joy to work with. And that's that.

NHOR : After the band broke up the first time, there was pretty much no news from you for 25 years. What were you doing during that time, and what led you to drop out of the music scene for so long? I heard you were playing weddings? What kind of music were you playing then?

JG : I had an agency, and we booked bands that played private affairs. It's the most money I ever made in the music business. Because I totally got ripped off with Sir Lord. Didn't make a penny from Sir Lord Baltimore. I started the agency, and at that time besides big time rock n roll, the best money was playing private affairs. We represented and we also had our own group too.

NHOR : What about the re-issues? Both albums, 'Kingdom Come' and 'Sir Lord Baltimore' were re released as a 2 for 1 CD in 1994, again in 2004 by Polygram. and yet again this year by Anthology Records as single releases. Did you or any of the other members of the band receive royalties from any of those?

JG :
Those re-issues...they're ripping us off. Those people will be receiving cease and desist letters, and if they don't comply they will be served with a summons for court. I'm starting Sir Lord again, and this time I want to get it right.

NHOR : What was that from? Just bad business deals? Those albums have sold over 350,000 copies...

JG : We just got robbed by unscrupulous, disgusting people. It's the old story of rock n roll. We've received nothing from those re-issues. I've written them, and as a matter of fact there's a new issue which just came out. I threaten them, I call them up and write them. I say, "Listen, you're just selling bootleg stuff, I'm going to report you". Then they just go on and keep doing it anyway. I have to get a real lawyer, but lawyers cost a lot of money. I do okay, but I can't afford to throw money away. Thank God I've got all that I need though.

But we got screwed big time. We could've got a good lawyer in '73, '74...even until '79, but Gary and Louis were just disgusted and wanted to sweep it under the rug. It was a big hurt, a big depression for me because that was my life, and I loved it SO much. I had so many plans, and it was a broken dream. It was very sad, and I got really depressed over that. But I hung tough, and I moved on. Sir Lord Baltimore's fate hurt me so much mentally and physically that I just had to leave it alone. It was a tremendous blow to my dreams and expectations.

NHOR : Another thing I'd like to ask you is concerning the band Bloody Mary. There's a self titled album, released in 1974, which supposedly has ex Sir Lord Baltimore members on it, including yourself. Did you record anything on that album?

JG : I get a lot of questions about this, but they must have had some time at Ultra Sound studios, and maybe asked me to do an insignificant harmony part of no consequence after we had finished our session. I can hardly remember the instance. I'm not even sure anything was used. Anyway, if I did sing you would never be able to pick out my voice, that's how insignificant it is.

NHOR : You've been doing some collaborations with the Swedish guitarist Janne Stark, who's also in Mountain Of Power. Janne came to your house in New York recently, and reportedly he's now the new guitarist in Sir Lord Baltimore. What's the story behind that, and will there be any recordings coming forth from that collaboration?

JG : Janne and I, in the summer of 2008 have plans to play in Sweden. We're going to do something before that, and I'm looking to do a European tour, kicking off in Sweden. I have nothing but confidence in Janne. He's extremely efficient. He's a nice guy too, and a great guitar player. I had a great time with him, we had a lot of fun. We just jammed, and we molded and blended together so well. It's almost like we knew what the other was going to play before we played it. It's very unusual when that happens, which is cool. I just hope that providence smiles on this project, because I'm very determined. You have to keep things rolling. I'm trying to get them rolling properly, without any help from anyone. Janne is the only one...he's doing a few things with me now. He's such a great technician.

I could set up a U.S. tour because people keep asking me to play here, play there...can you come here and play...but they're all one nighters 1,000 miles away from each other. I need a tour manager who can put it successfully together. Not for somebody who's 22 years old, but for somebody who's in their 50's.

People don't realize that a singer needs to rest. Because if a singer doesn't rest, his voice is compromised. Your voice is your body, and your body needs the rest. Not only that, I'll be playing drums and singing at the same time. So I need extra consideration, as far as how much time in between gigs, how much travel time, whether or not I'm going to have enough sleep for the next gig. That's what I need to know. I don't want to do a gig every day, with miles and miles in between. That's craziness.The first tour would have to be sort of an experimental type. The Lizards tour was extremely difficult, and I wasn't the only one who said it was. Everybody had bloodshot eyes, and looked strained. That's not my idea of going on a good tour. People talk about it. Not only that, but because I quit The Lizards, a lot of people say, "Oh, the reason he quit was because he's not in good health". But I say, nobody else in The Lizards sang, and nobody on the tour sang like me. Strong and hard. So therefore, I needed more consideration for rest and sleep.

NHOR : John, you look at the Sir Lord Baltimore albums, the Zeppelin albums, early Sabbath albums, then you look at a lot of the music of today...what's the difference? There's no substance to much of the music being produced. Why do you think that is?

JG : You're right. I stopped buying albums after 1975. Not totally, but I didn't think much was worth it after that. Except for maybe a few of Van Halen's albums...there's a few that slipped in here and there, but I think between The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Cream, The Who...it's all been done. I think the casting mold was made. So, anything you listen to now, it's a facsimile of what was created then. I wouldn't wanted to have lived in any other time than in the late 60's, early 70's. That was really cool for me, and they were the best years of my life. They were wonderful.

NHOR : Are there any bands or artists of the present day whom particularly impress you?

JG : I have a hard time remembering all of their names, but there's a few songs by these alternative rock bands that are pretty cool. Green Day maybe? I like to listen to a few things that U2 have done, they're very good. Most of these bands are so scattered, and they only have one or two good songs. That's the problem. Most of the bands only have one or two good songs per album. They're spread wide. I like the way this guy Joe Bonamassa plays guitar, John Mayer too. There's some pretty cool dudes playing some good Stratocaster guitar blues stuff. Joe's really good. I like watching him. I'd like to see him get a bit more original, but he's great.

NHOR : If you had to choose, what do you feel is your best recorded performance?

JG : I always thought "Lady Of Fire" was recorded pretty good. "Kingdom Come," that's a mainstay. We had people going wild in Sweden when we played that one. Sweden's unbelievable, a real rock haven of a country. Sir Lord Baltimore is so widely known and appreciated over there. Somebody told me that back in the day, when they only had 2 TV stations, whenever they went to commercial, they'd play a Sir Lord Baltimore piece. After EVERY commercial, before and after. That's a lot of Sir Lord Baltimore going on. (Laughs) You know what's pretty amazing. I've sold 'III: Raw' albums in Slovenia, Finland, Norway, The Canary Islands, Brazil...Israel, Japan and Germany. When I got the order from Slovenia, I went "Holy Mackerel". (Laughs) I can't believe the scope.

NHOR : What has been the most memorable gig you've ever played so far?

JG : The Fillmore East with Sabbath and J.Geils. Because our first job was Carnegie Hall, and that was very memorable. But the reason why I'm saying our second gig at The Fillmore is because at least we were warmed up. (Laughs)

NHOR : What about Louis Dambra? Is he aware of the regard that he's held by a lot of the newer stoner rock bands these days as a guitarist?

JG : Oh yeah, he's aware. He appreciates all the fans who hold him in high regard. He thinks it's kind of funny, because it all comes natural to him. Louis still plays great, he's very unique.. He doesn't have a computer, so.I sent him some things people have said about him though. From fellow believers, a pastor in Texas who used to have a hard rock band himself. He gave us nothing but praise. So I made a copy of the letter, and had to snail mail it to Louis. Just to make him a little happy.

NHOR : Is there anything else that you'd like to say to all the fans out there?

JG : If the powers that be allow me to do what I'd like, look out, because Sir Lord Baltimore will be out there to thrill your bones. (Laughs)

For more information on Sir Lord Baltimore, and to purchase the Sir Lord Baltimore 'III Raw' CD, go to http://www.myspace.com/sirlordbaltimorewebsite or http://www.sirlordbaltimore.com/

1 comment:

John Garner said...

Great stuff, what a story! Loved hearing it!!!!

Jason Kane & The Jive