Sent: August 12, 2001 5:11 PM
Unfortunately, even though he is in the hospital, we still cannot pay Strapping.
This magazine is taking its sweet time paying for itself. Everyone seems to love it, I run out of magazines and need to print more...I have wonderful writers (case in point) who deserve to get paid...a photographer who runs her ass off for me and probably deserves a medal...and the advertisers are still slow on the uptake. We are trying a major advertising push these next two months.
Keep your fingers crossed,
Sent: August 13, 2001 5:11 PM
Strapping wants to retire. He says it's too much stress. This isn't a ploy to get you to pay him, he just feels half dead right now, being in the hospital and half-dead and all.
Sent: August 14, 2001 5:11 PM
Subject: Re: re: Care
We took a poll from the crowd who came to the 3 day youth concert up here and everyone was upset that Danforth may be retiring. He has to strong a fan base right now and I would have a riot on my hands if he took off. Keep his heart pumping.
P.S. Someone offered to give me money to tell them who Strapping Dan was. I don't think he believed me when I told him I didn't know.
Recovering from a Heart Attack
With an Orgy and Unreliable Sources
In case you missed it, I had a heart attack last month and became nice. No more angry tirades against poor saps trying to make it in the Denver music scene. I vowed to SUPPORT our local tunesmiths. I will stop getting drunk at shows. I promised Lois (the editor of this fine paper) that I would conduct actual interviews of actual musicians.
Which is hard when you're trapped in a hospital.
I feared I'd have to take the month off until I learned from one of the nurses that my physician, Doctor Herman Edmund Widder was the ex-lead singer of the Astronauts. [The Astronauts were a Boulder surf band from the sixties. They had a hit with the tune “Baja” and they toured Japan twice.—Editor] I purchased a tape recorder on the hospital black market and told the doctor I write for Rolling Stone. What follows is a conversation we had in my room. I was in my bed, he was in his white coat, tapping a clipboard the whole time. We join the interview already in progress:
Me: No way!
Dr. Herman Edward Widder: Oh sure. I sang with ‘em from 1959 to 1962. I left the band when they got signed.
Me: Why? Were you kicked out?
Dr.H.E.W.: How much space do you have on that tape player? (laughs) I haven't spoken about this for almost 40 years so it might take awhile. First of all, the Astronauts weren't a surf band until RCA got a hold of them. We started out as the Coretones doing pop tunes. Then we became the Stormtroopers and got into more Rock and Roll-ish stuff. I wrote all the songs. I sang lead. I showed the guys how to sing harmonies.
I even started writing some stuff that sounded just like the Beatles. Except the Beatles weren't around yet. This was '60 or '61. I used lots of passing chords. Real tight vocal harmonies with my voice at the front. I wrote everything on my mom's piano. I recorded [the songs] on a reel to reel tape recorder and then I'd bring ‘em into the basement where we rehearsed. It was the drummer's basement. I won't give his name. He lived with his parents.
Me: What was Boulder like in the early sixties?
Dr. H.E.W.: It was a fun town back then. It was small... didn't have the reputation it has now. No riots. No new-age loonies. After most of our shows we'd end up at the Practice Basement with a bunch of girls. Beer, wine, lids...and strip poker. We had to be quiet so we wouldn't wake up the adults sleeping upstairs. We called ourselves the Society of the Free and Easy. We got the name from Ben Franklin's autobiography. Sometimes we got extremely free and easy, if you catch my drift.
Anyway, we'd do anything to keep our fans happy. I remember what they really liked was our version of “What'd I Say?” We'd skip most of the lyrics and go straight into the, “Ooooooooh, aaaaaaaah,” parts. You know, the second part after it fades back in. Us goin' “Oooh” and this crowd of college girls going “Aaaaah.” The longer the song went on, it seemed, the more girls would join us in the Society of the Free and Easy later in the night.
Me: What about the stuff you were writing? The stuff that sounded like the Beatles.
Dr. H.E.W.: The band liked it. I liked it. The club-owners liked it. But the audiences wanted music that went straight to the gonads and we were motivated to keep the audience happy. So my stuff hardly got played outside of the Practice Basement.
Me: Did that bother you?
Dr. H.E.W.: Not really. If this was baseball I would have been hitting a lot of home runs, if you know what I mean. Home runs with the girls. Outta the park! Sometimes a couple in one night. I had the occasional walk on balls, too, if you catch what I'm putting out there.
But back to my story: It so happened that we were playing Tulagi's one night in the Spring of '62 and we went into an hour-and-a-half long version of “What'd I Say?” About ten minutes into the song, me and this one gal (who later became my wife, then my ex-wife, and now we're happily married again (knock wood))...anyway, me and this gal snuck up to the roof and made some music of our own, if you get the picture. All the while we could hear the band playing “What'd I Say?” underneath us. They finished the show without me. It turns out that that was the night the rep from RCA was in the crowd. Me and my future wife slept on the roof. The RCA guy ended up in the Basement with the Society of the Free and Easy.
Next day, he called his bosses in LA and asked what kind of bands they were looking for. They said, “Get us a surf band.” He said, “I've got just the group.” He didn't mention the strip poker.
Me: I assume there was no place for a musical visionary in a band controlled by a studio...
Dr. H.E.W.: Exactly. I have to grant the guys this much: They stood up for me...to a point. They said, “We're NOT a surf band. We have all these great songs and this great singer.” The RCA guy said, “If you're a surf band, you get signed. If you're not a surf band, you don't. Leave the singer in Boulder and come with me to California .”
They couldn't say no. So they became the legendary Astronauts. They had a hit. They toured. They were in movies. They were told to forget about me so they did.
Me: What happened to you?
Dr. H.E.W.: I went to med school and now I save the lives of hack music writers. (sighs) Are we almost done? I need to do my rounds.
Me: Wait a minute. So you're telling me that you could have been bigger than the Beatles but you gave it away so you could have a tryst on top of a building while your band played a Ray Charles song for ninety minutes?
Dr. H.E.W.: Yes.
Me: Not only that, but the sole reason the Astronauts ever got signed was because a PR man from RCA got into an orgy with the band and some female fans after hearing a ninety minute version of a Ray Charles song?
Dr. H.E.W: If you want to put it that way, yes.
Me: What happened to the Society of the Free and Easy?
Dr. H.E.W.: It's still free, but it's not so easy, if you can dig what I'm saying.
With that, the good doctor left, never to be seen again. I was discharged the next day.
--Strapping Danforth, August 2001