Phil “Fang” Volk is best known as the bassist for iconic 1960s rockers Paul Revere and the Raiders, who had a string of hits, including “Just Like Me,” “Kicks,” and “Hungry.” The group was the house band on Dick Clark’s afternoon music showcase, Where The Action Is, which featured some of the top rock and soul artists of the 1960s, including The Beach Boys, James Brown, and Tommy James & the Shondells. They also appeared on Batman, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Hollywood Palace. The band’s wild stage antics were as entertaining and memorable as their music and inspired musicians like Little Steven, Paul Shaffer, and Will Lee. After leaving the Raiders in 1967, Volk and his bandmates Drake Levin and Mike Smith formed the Brotherhood, who released three albums in the late 1960s. He also played in Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band and has formed several other groups over the years, including The Great Crowd and Fang and the Gang. Volk recently released Rocker, a two-disc CD featuring music that spans his entire career. I recently spoke with Phil about his time with the Raiders, the Brotherhood, and the new album.
Q: You were a member of Paul Revere and the Raiders during their most successful and fruitful period as a band. The group’s music had a rough edge to it, almost like a fusion of American garage rock and The British Invasion. What was it like to create the sound of classic records like “Good Thing” and “Kicks” in the studio?
A: It was always exciting to work in the studio. We had a very intelligent, talented, and insightful producer in Terry Melcher, who also worked with The Byrds and The Beach Boys. He had a keen sense of the type of groove he was looking for. Terry was especially fond of The Rolling Stones, and he wanted us to sound raunchy and rocked out like they did. We’d all sit around the piano with Terry, and work out the arrangements. We usually started with the bass and guitar parts. That was especially true with “Kicks,” which had that cool opening guitar line, and then after two bars I’d come in with the bass as a counterpoint. Once we had the hook, we could build the song on top of that. We’d put it all together, add the vocals, and mix the song. When it felt good and sounded good, we knew that we had a smash hit on our hands. The band often did those sessions in one night, and once a song was finished, (guitarist) Drake Levin and I were already figuring out dance steps to incorporate into our live shows. It was a very similar situation with “Hungry,” which like “Kicks,” was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
Q: Speaking of “Hungry,” that tune features one of your most distinctive bass lines. It was one of four Paul Revere and the Raiders songs featured in the Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. What was the genesis of the unique bass sound showcased on that one?
A: When we were working on that song, Terry said he wanted to have an unusual bass line that he could put up front in the mix. So I showed him a few things I had come up with, and I finally played a sort of walking bass line. When he heard it, he said, “Wow, man, that’s it.” He decided to record the bass in three different ways. So first we recorded the bass with the drums, then we recorded it again, and produced a great fuzz tone by plugging it into a small Fender amp and cranking it up. Then Terry said, “Is there anything else we do to make it sound big, like a locomotive coming down the track?” I suggested playing the whole line an octave higher, which gave us the sound he was looking for. We only had eight tracks back then, so Terry combined all three of those versions to create a single master bass track. That’s why there’s such a huge bass sound on that song.
Q: How did it feel to have your songs showcased in a high profile film like Once Upon A Time In Hollywood?
I’m sitting there in the theater, listening to Quentin Tarantino use Raiders songs on the movie’s soundtrack, which is kind of a rare experience, and then all of a sudden Margot Robbie, playing Sharon Tate, starts dancing to “Hungry.” They showed the album cover on screen, there’s no dialogue, and all you can hear is the music. I said to myself “Wow! Is this really happening?” The whole theater is blasting with my bass playing! I really enjoyed that moment. I’m so grateful that Quentin used our music in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Q: One of the other tunes you did while you were with the Raiders was “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone” by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, which was a big hit for The Monkees. You recorded it first, and your version was a bit more raw than their take on the song.
A: Tommy Boyce sent us that song, and we fell in love with it. He told us “If you record this, and release it as a single, I won’t shop it around to anybody else.” We put it on our album Midnight Ride in 1966, but we didn’t end up releasing it as a single. As a result, it dissolved our friendly agreement with Tommy. So he gave it to The Monkees, told them to copy our arrangement of the song, and they had a huge hit with it! Tommy couldn’t have been happier, but we were a little miffed. The Raiders version of the song was more raunchy and gritty and had a real kick-ass feeling to it. We were kind of vindicated years later when Mojo magazine did a feature on The Sex Pistols, who talked about their favorite songs, and our version of “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone” was one of them. That was kind of a feather in our cap.
Q: Paul Revere and the Raiders were the house band for the Dick Clark produced music series, Where The Action Is. Not only did you meet your wife, Tina, while working on the show, but you got to see a wide array of performers, such as The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and Aretha Franklin, at the height of their fame. Are there any artists you have particularly fond memories of?
A: We loved it when James Brown or Stevie Wonder came to the set, and we’d all gather around to watch them perform. Sonny & Cher were on and they did “I Got You Babe.” They were fun to hang out with. It was very cool to meet Otis Redding. All kinds of groups appeared on the show, like The Turtles and The Young Rascals. That’s why it was so great to be a rock and roller in the 1960s because I got to meet most of my heroes, like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. I could go on and on, but it was one of those shows that the kids would run home from school to watch, so they could see all the latest bands. The Raiders were on every day, and we actually hold the record for the most television performances by a band in the 1960s. We did over 750 performances on TV during the decade, and about 520 of those were on Where The Action Is.
Q: Guitarist Drake Levin, drummer Mike Smith, and yourself left the Raiders in 1967 and formed the Brotherhood, who recorded three albums. There’s some excellent music on those records, including a fantastic rock-oriented cover of “Rose Garden,” later a hit for Lynn Anderson. It seems like the Brotherhood’s music should be more well-known.
A: There’s a story there about how things fall into place and something comes together that you’d never expect. We were looking for material for our second album. We used to hang out in the studio with guys like Jimi Hendrix, Harry Nilsson, David Crosby, and Lee Michaels. We were talking about needing a couple of more songs, and Lee said to Drake “Hey, remember that tune we recorded over at A&M? I don’t want to release that song, but I think Phil could sing it great.” So we recorded it with Lee on organ, Drake on guitar, John Barbata of the Turtles on drums, and myself on vocals. When we heard it, we said “this is a hit.” We couldn’t get RCA to release it, because they were just getting into the rock and roll business, and they didn’t hear the potential in the song. The really tragic part of the Brotherhood story is that when we left the Raiders, we got slapped with lawsuits from Columbia Records and Paul Revere’s lawyers for breach of contract. We were legally considered Raiders until mid-1968 when things were settled. It was over a year before we could legally release any music, or do any promotion. By the time we got the music out, people asked “Brotherhood who?” It was very sad. The band did three albums, and there was some great music on them. It took years for that music to really be heard. A label called Real Gone Records finally re-issued our recordings on CD, with liner notes that featured a complete history of the band.
Q: After the Brotherhood ended, you played in Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band. You’d known Rick for a long time, hadn’t you?
A: I had a lot of history with the Nelson family. My mom was Harriet Nelson’s massage therapist, so we’d go to their house, and occasionally I’d see Rick there. During my time with the Raiders, we’d sometimes hang out with Rick and his band. Later on, Rick’s uncle, Don Nelson, managed the Brotherhood. Rick was at a release party for our first album. He said he was really impressed with how I could play such complicated bass lines and sing at the same time. After the Brotherhood folded, Don told me Rick was going to lose his bass player, and he wanted me to play with him. At the first rehearsal, I knocked Rick out with how well I already knew his songs. By the way, the guy I replaced was Randy Meisner, who went on to become one of the founding members of The Eagles. Rick had a little bit of that teen idol persona, and the girls swooned over him. He was a good singer, and kind of a mellow guy. While we were on the road, we did a few television shows like The Johnny Cash Show. We got to meet a lot of good people, like Johnny and his wife June Carter, Chet Atkins, and Kris Kristofferson, who wasn’t all that well known at the time. He played a new song of his for me backstage at the show, which was “Me and Bobby McGee.” I talk about that in the liner notes for the new album.
Q: Your new CD, Rocker, is a fantastic collection of thirty-nine songs taken from throughout your career, including an interesting selection of covers, such as a very different take on “All Along The Watchtower.”
A: Rocker is an individual statement I’ve been wanting to make for many years. In fact, the CD spans about five decades of my recording history. It’s kind of like an anthology. Some of these songs have never seen the light of day, including “Family Tree” and “Colorful Day,” a couple of early Brotherhood demos, which we recorded for this album. I had so many great songs in the archives, we ended up making it a double CD. As for “Watchtower,” that’s the opening song on the album. I wanted to kick it off with something that really moves. As a bass player, I’m crazy about the shuffle groove, so I turned the song into a fast rock shuffle. I love the way it feels. My philosophy has always been that if you’re going to cover a song, you’d better put your own footprint on it, and make it unique and special.
Q: The photos and in-depth liner notes add a very personal touch to the album. When you’re reading them and listening to the songs, Rocker feels like nothing less than a journey through the story of your life and your career in music.
A: That was my intention. There was a real purpose to my including the backstories of the music and the photos in the liner notes. People don’t always know how a song came about, what you go through to get a song recorded, or what inspired you to write them. I wanted to get those details out there because I think a lot of these stories are very interesting. The album became like an autobiography and a sentimental rock and roll journey for me. I’m proud of this project, and I hope people will really enjoy it. It’s good music, and good music is good anytime.
Rocker is available from Phil “Fang” Volk’s website at www.philfangvolk.com, where you can also purchase an autographed copy of the album.
This post was previously published on CultureSonar.
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Photo credit: CultureSonar