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Preston Ritter Interview

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  • ep_underground
    -- Many thanks to Preston, the Prunes drummer on their 1st and 2nd albums, for taking time to do this Email interview. This has also been added to the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2, 2004
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      --> Many thanks to Preston, the Prunes drummer on their 1st and 2nd
      albums, for taking time to do this Email interview. This has also
      been added to the "Files" section here as a Microsoft Word document.
      I've added bookmarks in the "Links" section here for Preston's
      website and for the magazines he mentions. Also check the "Photos"
      section here for some new Prunes pictures <--

      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

      _°_How young were you when you knew you wanted to be a musician?

      I've been interested in drums since age five. Decided to be a
      musician around age 12 or 13.

      _°_What was your first professional job as a drummer?

      Playing in a small combo, with songs like "Cotton Fields" and "When
      The Saints Come Marching In." It was for an employee picnic for
      Piggly Wiggly supermarkets. I got paid five dollars for a three-hour
      gig and thought, "What an easy way to make money!" (It seems like I
      still make about the same amount these days).

      _°_There were numerous `psychedelic' bands in the mid to late 60's.
      I'll throw out some names here - tell me if you played with these
      bands or what your memories of them are…

      13th Floor Elevators
      Captain Beefheart
      Earth Opera
      H.P. Lovecraft
      Incredible String Band
      Iron Butterfly
      Jefferson Airplane
      Soft Machine
      Strawberry Alarm Clock
      Ultimate Spinach
      Vanilla Fudge
      Velvet Underground

      Wow, what a list! Some of the above groups were on the same bill
      with the Electric Prunes back in 1966-67. For example, Iron
      Butterfly and Love. I was offered the job as the drummer of Capt.
      Beefheart back in the early `70s for a European tour. My sax
      teacher, Del Simmons was on that tour and even recorded with him. I
      was involved with a recording project at the time and couldn't go
      with the Capt. Beefheart tour. I regret that now.

      By the way, Carmine Appice, the drummer for Vanilla Fudge is good
      friend. He lives near me and his daughter, Bianca, and my daughter,
      Larissa, are in a band together! Bianca Appice plays bass, guitar
      and sings. Larissa Ritter plays drums, guitar, bass, and sings.
      Both Carmine and I have written some songs for our daughters' band.

      _°_How did you meet Jim, Ken, and Mark?

      I had an audition for the band in June of 1967. I was hired and we
      started recording our first album and the single, "I Had Too Much To
      Dream (Last Night)." Too Much To Dream was finished sometime around
      November or December and hit the Billboard charts in February of `67.

      _°_How long did it take to record the very first Prunes album?

      I don't remember exactly. I think it was about three months.

      _°_Is it true that "I Happen To Love You" was originally written for
      The Monkees, but that they gave it to the Prunes to record?

      I've heard that, but I don't know if it's true or not. I ran into
      another friend, Beau Charles of the band The Knickerbockers
      recently. He told me that they were offered Too Much To Dream first,
      but turned it down. Then a few months later, they heard it on the
      radio by the Prunes! He said they didn't think they could do
      anything with the song!

      _°_Did you or Quint play on this song?

      I was the drummer on every song of the first album and most of the
      second one (Underground).
      The songs I played on for the second album were:
      Wind Up Toys
      It's Not Fair
      I Happen To Love You
      Dr. Do-Good
      Big City
      The Great Banana Hoax

      All the others were Quint. Banana Hoax wasn't finished when I left
      the band. So Quint is also on that one. He over dubbed some stuff
      that replaced a lot of what I had originally recorded on that song.
      Personally, I think the stuff I did, that was covered over, was
      better than what finally ended up on the finished recording. I was a
      bit disappointed when I heard the finished song.

      _°_Among my favorite Prunes songs where your drumming really shines
      are "Hideaway" and "Train for Tomorrow." Were there variations from
      the studio versions when you played live?

      Thanks for the compliments! Actually, I don't ever remember playing
      either of those songs live with the band. James Lowe didn't
      like "Train For Tomorrow" at all. His comments on that song for the
      reissue CD," Lost Dreams," says, "Second worst record ever made." I
      have to disagree with his assessment. The second part of the song
      where we go into a jazz break was my idea. It was natural since I
      came from a jazz and R&B background, as much as from rock.

      _°_You made numerous appearances with the Prunes on shows such as
      American Bandstand, Where The Action Is, and Ed Sullivan. Did you
      enjoy these performances or were they merely an obligation to the
      record company?

      I enjoyed doing the television appearances very much. I think our
      management and booking agent was responsible for getting us those
      gigs. Also, after the record became a hit, some of the shows
      contacted us about appearing on their shows.

      _°_Tell us about Dave Hassinger. What influence did he have on the
      Prunes success?

      The real truth of that is that as far as my opinion, I really think
      he didn't help at all! He was a detriment to the band in more ways
      than an asset! I think the other guys in the band probably agree
      with that. Often, in the studio, he was disengaged. Mark Tulin
      remembers him ignoring what we were doing in the studio and reading a
      newspaper! His judgment (or lack thereof) regarding what specific
      songs and what type of material the band should record and release,
      was awful! A case in point, songs like "The King is in the Counting
      House," "Toonerville Trolley" and "About a Quarter To Nine." Those
      songs sucked! At the very least, they didn't reflect the Prunes'
      taste or style of music. Can you imagine the kids that thought they
      were going to get an album of stuff similar to "Too Much To Dream"
      and then they heard "Toonerville Trolley?" Well, they can thank Dave
      Hassinger for that. I think that our recording engineer, Ritchie
      Pooler, was a far more constructive and creative influence than
      Hassinger ever was. At first, we were awed by Hassinger's connection
      to the Rolling Stones. He was their engineer on some of their
      biggest hits, like "Satisfaction," "Get Off My Cloud" and the
      Aftermath album. But as time went on, we
      became more and more disenchanted with his style and decisions as our

      _°_Your bio mentions that you played on many T.V. and movie
      soundtracks. Would we be familiar with any of these recordings?

      I don't even remember most of the titles. I did studio work in L.A.,
      for about three years after the Prunes. I just remember doing a lot
      of demo sessions and many little jingles for TV commercials and some
      movie and TV series soundtracks. I think some of the soundtracks
      even changed names after they were recorded. Often I would go into
      the studio, record the rhythm parts with the other rhythm section
      players and they would over dub strings or horns later. So when the
      finished recordings came out they sounded completely different than
      they did to me in the studio after I finished my little parts.

      _°_One of my favorite drummers that influenced you is Steve Gadd.
      He's played with Paul Simon and James Taylor among others. What
      professional drummers have you kept in touch with over the years?

      One of my first drumming influences and heroes was Sandy Nelson. His
      biggest hits were "Teen Beat" and "Let There Be Drums." We still get
      together a couple of times each year and stay in touch regularly by
      phone. In fact, I'm planning to go visit him this month (June 2004)
      to interview him for Vintage Drummer magazine. The current issue of
      that magazine has my interview along with ten photos. Mickey Dolenz
      is on the cover. I tried to contact Mickey about getting together,
      but so far, he hasn't gotten back to me. I also stay in touch with
      Louie Bellson, the jazz legend. The drums I still use were a gift
      from Louie back in 1972. And as mentioned above, I still see Carmine
      Appice a lot. I had a chat with Gregg Bissonette a few weeks ago.

      _°_Tell us about the books you've written for drum instruction and

      When I was fourteen years old, I wrote a book on rock and R&B
      drumming. It was later published in 1966 under the title, "67
      Backbeats," even before I joined the Electric Prunes. It was the
      first rock style drum instruction book ever published. It had some
      syncopated rhythms similar to the James Brown type of stuff. It was
      featured as a separate interview with Mike Douglas when we did his
      show in Philadelphia. He showed a copy of the book and talked about
      how it was selling at the time. Then, they had me give a "drum
      lesson" to Barbra Feldon (Agent 99 on Get Smart) out in front of the
      band. Later I also wrote a second book for the same publisher, but
      it was for two drummers to play at the same time! I am now working
      on updating and expanding the first book to be republished. It will
      probably be titled, "Drum
      Stuff." Not sure just yet.

      _°_We're all familiar with those rock posters (i.e. Stanley Mouse &
      Alton Kelley) from the Fillmore and Shrine where dozens of bands
      appeared on the same bill. Did the Electric Prunes ever headline any
      shows like that?

      Yes, we did. But things run together in my memory after all these
      years. But now I couldn't give specifics about who, when or where.

      _°_Finally, do you stay in touch with your Prunes band mates and how
      do you feel about them reuniting for performances and new material?

      The only one I've maintained regular contact with is Mark Tulin, the
      bassist. We meet and talk a couple of times each year as well as e-
      mail each other. I saw James Lowe several years ago, when we first
      started trying to reunite the band. Ken Williams and Jim "Weasel"
      Spagnola weren't found yet. After three rehearsals, I decided not to
      remain with the band. Later, they found Ken and he rejoined. No one
      has been able to find Spagnola so far. Mark Tulin gave me the
      CD "Artifacts" and frankly, it isn't my cup of tea. I didn't find it
      very interesting. Recently, I've been contacted by a band
      called "The Fuzztones.." They are interested in me being their new
      drummer. I haven't decided yet if I will do it. Musically, they are
      very similar to the old style Prunes and I hear some Doors type
      influences too. But I haven't played that type of music since I left
      the Prunes and I'm not sure I can get into playing it again with the
      same enthusiasm I had back in the 60s. Also, there are some
      logistical problems I have to solve to be able to go on tour with the
      Fuzztones. We will see what develops.

      I also recently did an interview for DRUM! Magazine. Not sure when
      it will be published. Don't forget to check out the current issue of
      Vintage Drummer for my interview and photos.
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