Preston Ritter Interview
- --> 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 <--
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_°_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
Incredible String Band
Strawberry Alarm Clock
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
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
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
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.