Rough Q & A: Bob Lind

At the end of last year, I was putting together and pitching a magazine feature on the reemergence of 60’s/early-70’s folk-rock hero Bob Lind. It was met with a deafening silence. Granted, I’m a little more interested in his early-70’s desert exile and late-80’s/early-90’s stint writing for The Weekly World News. If you have never heard Don’t Be Concerned (1966), Photographs of a Feeling (1966), or Since There Were Circles (1971), do so.

 

On your website, you joke in the introductory paragraph that people may have assumed you were dead. Why would people assume that?
Sensible people often come to conclusions like that when an artist known to indulge heavily in drugs and alcohol flashes in the pan, then vanishes. As I say on my intro page, lots of my contemporaries who lived as I did — even those who lived much tamer, actually — are no longer around. It’s mysterious to me, this seemingly arbitrary UNnatural selection. But I guess we start where we are. In my case, grateful to be handed another chance to reach people with my songs.

Why did you leave LA at the end of the 60’s?
I thought, circa 1968, that my problem was the city, the indifference and Philistine sensibilities of the men who ran the L.A. music business. I couldn’t get quiet in L.A. There was noise everywhere — most of it mindless and abrasive. If you’re at all interested in writing anything true and meaningful, you have to get quiet and find that place in yourself where the music lives. So after I poisoned up my relationships with my managers, my recording company and my publisher, it was an easy, almost lateral step to move out close to the desert and leave all the chaos.
Naturally and unfortunately, I took myself with me and found the noise was still banging in my head. It took me about nine more years to get to the real problem: the condition that necessitated constant medicating with drugs and alcohol.
I’m not saying I never produced anything worthwhile in those drug-and-alcohol-soaked days. For a while, in fact, booze and uppers actually helped me get where I needed to be. I’m just saying the chemicals make promises they don’t keep. They turn on you. And eventually both the creativity AND the body give out and die under their weight.
Now I know how to get quiet. I know how to get to those places where the music is. And I don’t need drugs to get me there.
If you don’t mind me asking, what is the ballpark amount of royalties that you receive from your hits?
For more than 40 years, I’ve stayed alive mostly on covers of not only “Elusive Butterfly,” “Cheryl’s Goin’ Home” and “Truly Julie’s Blues” but other songs as well. There are more than 200 recordings of my songs by best-selling artists and they accumulate to keep the wolf . . . . well, not exactly from the door, but at least lying down on the welcome mat instead of snarling and slobbering on the knob.
The amount varies from year to year and, unlike what one might reasonably assume, it hasn’t been a steady decline since 1966. Some years it’s great. Other years it’s been just above poverty level.

What about the cover tunes? What are your favorite cover versions?
I’ll begin with a blanket disclaimer.
For one thing, more artists are writing their own songs these days, fewer and fewer seem to be doing other people’s. But even among the ones who do, “competition” (not the best word, but let’s let it stand for now) among writers for space on a CD is unthinkably intense. An album has space for about 12 cuts — well, slightly more now, with CDs. Let’s say 14 to 16. Of those, maybe five to seven will be written by the artist himself, or the producer, or co-written by the artist with someone in the band.
Of the other tracks, most will be standards or at least well-known songs. Lennon and McCartney are still being recorded. So are Dylan, Bacharach-David, Carole King and of course the American Songbag writers like Rogers-Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Kander and Ebb and the like. And that’s not to mention the modern singer/songwriters.
That leaves a small sliver of room for me.
Anytime an artist chooses one of my songs to fill one of those slots, I’m grateful beyond words, far too grateful to stand in judgment of his or her rendition.
That said, I will tell you this: I know there are songwriters who believe their version is the only right and correct way to present their song. If one takes liberties or gives it a new slant, they feel violated. I think Sondheim has that clear and specific vision of his work. So does Jimmy Webb, who almost always orchestrates and conducts his new tunes with the artists who cut them.
I’m not from that school.
I like it most when an artist gives my song something that surprises me — shows me an aspect of my song that I never knew was there.
Case in point: Back in the 80s, a fellow named Jon Otway, a Brit Punk-rocker recorded “Cheryl’s Goin’ Home.” His performance of it was in a film called “Urghhh! A Music War.” It’s wild and metallic and the intensity is cranked all the way up to 10. Friends who have heard my version can’t believe it when I say I love Otway’s. He makes it theatrical, skirting the line between playing up the desperation and playing the whole thing for laughs (even adding a little melodramatic rap riff).
The point is that he found something in the song I never knew was there and he reached a whole segment of listeners that my version might never have found.
Of my favorite cuts, I guess number one would be Richie Havens’ version of “How the Nights Can Fly.” It’s completely different from mine. But, with an artist like Richie, that’s what you expect. He makes everything he does totally his own.
When my manager heard Richie’s version for the first time, after hearing mine for months, she said, “It’s great. But it’s a different song.” In a way she’s right.
Also up there with my favorite covers is Nancy Sinatra’s “Long Time Woman.”
I was never a Nancy Sinatra fan. But she presents my song with a simple, unadorned honesty that compels one to listen and feel. The complete reverse of “Boots,” which, in my opinion, she overplays. When I wrote “Long Time Woman,” I never thought it would ever be covered — much less by a woman. But she sings it with a powerful restraint, never giving it more than it needs. I love it.
I like Keith Relf’s “Mr. Zero” on which Eric Clapton is playing guitar.
I like Hoyt Axton’s “I Love To Sing.”
And I like the two very different versions of “Counting” I’ve heard. One by Marianne Faithful, the other recorded just recently by Jamie Hoover.
And of the 80-plus covers of “Elusive Butterfly,” (again, no one believes me) I favor Petula Clark’s slow, simple statement of the song. She only does one verse and does it in a very thoughtful laid-back tempo.
And, perhaps for sentimental reasons, I like “Down in Suburbia” by the Turtles. It was the first-ever cut of a Lind song. They recorded it before I had so much as one release as an artist.
Cher’s version of “Come to Your Window” was also recorded long before anyone knew who the hell I was, months before my version of “Elusive Butterfly” was released. I still feel grateful for their belief in those songs.
What else charted besides “Elusive Butterfly”, “Remember The Rain”, and “Truly Julie’s Blues”?
I think “San Francisco Woman” hit the Hot 100 briefly here in the states and so did “I Just Let It Take Me.” They didn’t stay for long, but I think they poked their little heads above the surface briefly before sinking to a watery death.
“Cheryl’s Goin’ Home” by an Italian group called The Rokes sold a million in Italy.

You’ve explained it in interviews before, but for the sake of these readers, can you explain your
relationship with Jack and his impact on your career?

Let me beg off this one and refer you to this link.
I’m sure Martin Roberts, who runs the site will allow you to use as much of it as you want.
http://www.spectropop.com/JackNitzsche/BobLindRemembers.html
I’m just “talked out” about Jack.
I know, just from reading the liners to the CD, that you don’t particularly look back on this period in a favorable fashion; in terms of personal creativity. I’m sure that people have told you before that they think you were being hard on yourself in those liners. I certainly don’t want to take you to task on it, as you see that period in a completely different manner than someone like myself (a total outsider, a big fan of the two albums, and someone that knows next to nothing of your personal business). Please keep in mind, though, that this is not a nostalgia trip for me. I first heard Don’t Be Concerned five years ago, and I was born in ‘73. I was immediately blown away by,
specifically, “Truly Julie’s Blues” and “You Should Have Seen It.” The latter floored me lyrically. Aside from Dylan, who I’m still convinced didn’t trump this song, I find it WAY ahead of its time in terms of how the male/female issue has been handled by singer-songwriters until at least the 90’s/00’s. And if it means anything, most deep music fans I’ve played it for in the past five years have fallen in love with the track. You might laugh at this, but I’ll throw those two albums on before Pet Sounds, the Gene Clark solo stuff of the time period, and especially before the highly overrated Van Dyke Parks LP. More people simply need to hear them. What’s my question here? I
don’t know, but I’d certainly like your comments.

I don’t laugh at all, Andrew. Thanks for the kind words and for asking the quasi-question, because, indeed, I think there’s a mistaken idea about me and my attitude toward the early work. It’s not that I think those songs are shit, it’s just that I don’t want them to stand as my legacy.
Let me respond in a general way:
When DBC and Photographs were recorded, I was 21-22 years old.
I was radiantly alive and full of sap and sperm and all the post-adolescent gush one might expect of a kid who is just discovering the power of words and how they can be used in songs.
I wrote in great lyrical ejaculations with no governor or limitations on myself. In the early days, it wasn’t unusual for me to write three to five songs a day. It’s all I did and all I wanted to do. And most of the songs had many long verses.
As I listen to those recordings — and a recently uncovered batch of my early demos that some friends found for me on the Internet — I say, “Wow, that guy was passionate. He sang and wrote with a constant hard-on (to continue the previously established absurd metaphor). But he has no idea when enough is enough.”
Today, the songs I’m writing are just as alive, just as charged with feeling, but I’ve learned to edit myself now. I’ve learned patience. I write fewer songs these days, but I’m peaceful enough inside to sit and wait — sometimes for quite a long while — for the right word, the right phrase.
Instead of writing 12-verse sagas. I’ll say it all in three verses and a bridge. A skill I never had in the old days.
So it’s embarrassment I feel about those old tunes, not shame.
I was a kid learning to write, full of enthusiasm, but unskilled. I don’t want those early trial-and-error efforts to represent me.
I’m still by no means the finished product, but I have developed some necessary qualities and the work is better today.
Why was Since There Were Circles excluded from The Best Of Bob Lind CD?
I think it’s because EMI had the rights to DBC and Photographs, which were released on World Pacific, but not to CIRCLES, which came out on Capitol.
But it’s all academic now, because CIRCLES has just been reissued on RPM/Cherry Red records and is available on Amazon and elsewhere on the Web and in brick-and-mortar record stores in England.
Other than BOB LIND LIVE AT THE LUNA STAR, it’s my favorite album, BTW.
I’d like for you to explain the situation with The Elusive Bob Lind. This material originally dates from the early-60’s, correct? The material on the finished Verve album had been sonically tampered with, and released to capitalize on the success of Don’t Be Concerned?
When I was a snot-nosed 17-18-year-old hot shot splitting my time between flunking out of College in Gunnison, Colo. and working the coffee house scene in Denver, some of my friends persuaded me to cut a record featuring some of the songs I was performing around that time. Nine of these wonderful friends each put up 10 dollars (not easy to come by for college kids in the early 60s) and I put in another 10 which bought me an hour of studio time and 10 acetates.
I went in and did one quick take of 12 songs — some of them my own; some of them either traditional or by writers varying from William Butler Yeats and Dylan to Shel Silverstein and Woody Guthrie.
The studio I recorded them in belonged to a local company called Band Box Records. When the head honcho heard what I’d recorded he asked me to sign with the company — which made me feel like Elvis. Here I was a teenage kid with a recording contract. I was quite the superstar, believe you me.
The guy signed me as a writer and as an artist with the understanding that we would go into the studio later and re-record the tunes because everyone involved agreed they were sloppily done and sounded like just what they were: one-take slop-outs by a kid who never recorded before.
Months go by, Band Box cools on the project and drops me — I thought. Turns out they only let go of my publishing and kept their rights to me as an artist. I was a hayseed punk. What did I know?
So I go out to L.A. and sign with World Pacific and have my hit with “Butterfly.”
Out of nowhere, my managers get this letter from Verve Records, who had bought the masters, trying to extort money from us NOT to release this piece of shit. We refused to cave — heroic but stupid.
Next thing I know there’s this album out with a goofy caricature of me on the cover and inside the cover is this hideous mishmash of my original recordings smeared over with strings and horns and drums and other instruments all hopelessly off the beat (mostly because I didn’t know how to keep a beat when I played by myself).
Verve didn’t even bother to get the titles right. And worse, they credited me for writing songs that anyone with a modicum of interest in the genre knew weren’t mine (”Pastures of Plenty,” “Hey Nellie Nellie” “The Times They Are A-Changin’” — you didn’t know I wrote those tunes did you?)
I really don’t think I can go on with this. Let’s just leave it by my saying it’s an outrage and an embarrassment. As you correctly theorize, It would never have seen the light of day had I not been riding the crest of “Butterfly.”
It exemplifies everything I hate about the Big Music businessmen with no feeling at all for the commodity they deal in. Cliche or not, nothing has tempered my contempt for their shitty, heartless drive to wring dollars out of any situation they can twist to their advantage. The artist? Fuck him. The fans? Fan this, suckers.

I was reading your piece on Jack Nitzsche. The problems between the two of you surfaced as “Elusive Butterfly” became successful. Was the song released as a single simultaneously with the release of Don’t Be Concerned? How did your relationship hold up for the recording and release of its follow-up, Photographs of a Feeling? Seeing as how they were both released in quick succession probably has something to do with the relationship not being allowed to sour completely?

That assumption’s pretty accurate, Andrew. Both those albums were recorded within a couple months of each other, as I recall. It took “Butterfly” a while to gather steam. By that time, both albums were finished.

THE 70’s

What was the extent of Gene Clark’s involvement with Since There Were Circles? Doug Dillard’s?
Actually, you had quite a line-up on that record. How did that come about
?

Indeed, there are some killer players on that record, but I can’t really take credit for most of them. Jimmy Bond, who arranged the LP (and, truth be told, actually produced — uncredited), worked regularly with the phenomenal bass legend Carol Kaye, finesse jazz drummer Paul Humphreys and acoustic 12-string wizard John Buck Wilkin. He knew they’d be right for this LP and called them for the dates.
It was also Jimmy who got the dynamite array of killer keyboard guys: Michael Lang, Ralph Grierson and Jai Winding.
They’re playing on most of the tracks.
But I had this song called “Sweet Harriet” that was sort of out of the mold of the rest of them. I used to play it with a rolling, double-time feel. My vision of the song was that it should be played without percussion, bluegrass style, but minus the mountain twang common to bluegrass vocals.
Gene Clark and Doug Dillard were both friends, as were Bernie Leadon and David Jackson. They were all working together in a group called The Dillard and Clark Expedition, which Doug started after his departure from The Dillards.
The five of us began to jam the song at drunken-stoned out parties and it seemed only natural to call them in for the session.
On the original album, “Harriet” is the only track they’re playing on. But on the re-release there’s a bonus track that features Doug. It’s called “Colorado Line.”
I think that Since There Were Circles beats anything that Gene Clark did from the same era, yet it was (and still is) totally overlooked as an important singer-songwriter album from the early 70’s…the same time that Clark, Mike Nesmith, David Ackles, and many others released lesser records that people still go crazy over. Though there are many injustices in terms of overlooked masterpieces, I find this to be one of the worst. I know that it got good reviews at the time, but you do not hear it mentioned these days, and a lot of singer-songwriter albums from that era are lauded through the roof these days. Why do you think this happened?
These things are as mysterious to me as they are to anyone else.
Why one album, one song, one piece of art, one novel (ad infinitum) strikes the public’s fancy and another doesn’t is a question that’s way out of my scope.
I will say this about why I think it didn’t sell as well as it might have:
In those days, record companies were like small South American countries. Every few months there would be a revolution. Top executives would be overthrown and a whole new batch of idiots would take control.
I believe it was my misfortune to have CIRCLES released at a bad time. The old regime loved it and were ready to get behind it.
But just as it was weeks away from release, the Shadow Cabinet came to power and, stupidly, in my opinion, they decided to drop all efforts to back any project the old regime stood behind.
So (again, in my opinion) CIRCLES got the short-shrift promotion-wise.
Or maybe the listening public just didn’t like it. There’s always that possibility.

The title track is especially arresting to me, and has no accompaniment. Is this an older song?
I wrote “Since There Were Circles” in New Mexico right around the beginning of 1970 and recorded it, as you say, acoustically. Just me and my Guild 12-string. I sometimes say, in my more grandiose moments, that it’s “about the love of every man for every woman.”

Where exactly did you live in the desert once you left LA?
I didn’t actually live in the desert. I lived in Santa Fe but I spent a lot of time out there alone

What kind of bikes did you own during that period?

I had an Ossa Pioneer 250 and a Suzuki (also a 250) both scramblers. Both of them could go through the sand and rocks like nobody’s business.
I also had a BMW 750 road bike and rode it all over the western U.S.

So, drugs and alcohol were a big enough problem in the late-60’s to impact your career?
I’ve heard that you experienced a Nilsson/Lennon-style booze rampage through LA in the 70’s, but have never seen anything written of it, so I don’t know of its validity. Is this true?

I wasn’t important enough, nor were my misadventures saga-like enough to warrant any notice by the press. Lennon wore a sanitary napkin on his head and heckled The Smothers Brothers but he was Lennon so he got some ink.
Anonymous me would get drunk in L.A. and come to the next morning in the San Francisco airport without knowing how I got there. Or follow women around all night — women with no interest at all in me — hitting on them blatantly in front of their boyfriends (who were, fortunately, too kind or too saddened to give a slobbering pathetic has-been the punch in the mouth he so richly deserved).
By increments, I alienated myself from all that was important to me. But nobody glorified the quiet tragedy with bad-boy news stories.
I was alone with those twisting guts, and rightly so.

THE 80’s

You were, of course, retired from music during the 80’s, but this is when you started writing for The Weekly World News? How did you get that job? From your liner notes and examples on your website, you are clearly a great writer. Can you expound upon the West-to-Florida move? When did it happen? What facilitated it?
When I finally left L.A. for good, I went as far west as I could go and still be in the U.S. I went to the Big Island of Hawaii. I liked it but it gave me rock fever to be so isolated and remote.
After living there for more than a year, I went to the other extreme, moving as far to the east as I could go without leaving the U.S.
I fell in love with the Everglades and still love it.
Were you the creator or were you involved in some of the Weekly World News’ more legendary cover stories, like Bat Boy, the alien stories, the Bigfoot stories? Keep in mind that I’m not taking any of this lightly. I find it fascinating, and so will readers. The writing and story subjects are comparable to some of the more accomplished satirical/comedy writing of the past 4 – 5 decades, in my opinion.
In 1988 or so, I was living in Florida, having given up on the music business. I was working four days a week as a guide on a wildlife refuge, taking people out into the Everglades in an airboat and showing them the wetlands. The pay was shit, but I loved the work. And, combined with my songwriter’s royalties, it helped make ends meet.
I was also writing novels, short stories and screenplays around this time but nothing was selling.
One day I met a guy who knew my music and knew I was currently writing prose. I told him I could stand to make some real money but I didn’t want to dirty my hands with actual work.
He said: “You oughta write for the tabloids.”
I said: “I hate that vicious celebrity-bashing stuff, who’s getting fat, who’s fucking whom, who’s in or out of rehab.”
He explained to me that there are lots of tabloids and not all of them are The National Enquirer. He said there were two papers, The Weekly World News and Sun that don’t do celebs. He said you have to be creative and know how to put words together a certain way. “Don’t kid yourself,” he said, “It’s a very specialized skill. Not everyone can do it. You’ve got to write simple, exciting prose that people with a third grade education can understand. And you’ve got to make it crackle. But if you can learn it, you get paid tremendous money to sit around all day and make up stories about Big Foot, UFOs, ghosts, three-headed babies, space aliens and any other bizarre thing that comes into your head.”
I said, “Yeah. Me for that.”
I started submitting freelance stories to Sun and they kept getting rejected. Indeed it took me a long time to crack it, but the editor, John Vader, took a liking to me and started editing my copy and teaching me how to get to the point. I freelanced for them about a year.
But then, Sun started to change its format and go with more legit true stories.
So I started to query WWN and eventually I met Eddie Clontz, Editor and Chief, who I still say taught me more about writing than anyone I ever met — not just tabloid writing, I mean writing in general.
I had so much to learn and he was ultra-patient with me. Eventually I got hired and spent nine years among some of the most creative people I’ve ever known.
Yes, I wrote stories about Bat Boy — the half-human; half-bat found in a cave. He was created by our cartoonist Dick Kulpa. Every month or so Bat Boy would be captured and held by the FBI, then the little bastard would escape and run amok and terrorize the nation.
Then the feds would nab him again. We all wrote Bat Boy stories.
I wrote “Space Aliens Ate My Laundry” and “Dinosaur Found In Arkansas Woods” and hundreds of other breaking news stories.
But it was all a collaborative effort. We’d bounce ideas off each other and there were days when I would leave with my face and stomach hurting from all the laughter.
I left WWN shortly after Eddie was fired by the idiot who took over the company and I started writing full time for Sun.
But those fun days are gone. Weekly World News and Sun have both been purchased by a clueless, corporate greed-head who doesn’t understand how to make them work. Sales are in the toilet with good reason.
It started to get really hard to get up and go to work in that joyless place. Soon it became impossible.
NEW MATERIAL AND YOUR REEMERGENCE INTO THE MUSIC BIZ

So, how many new songs have you written?
Since when? I never stopped writing songs — even during my trial separation from the business, that never stopped. I took a conservative theoretical count the other day, just a general ballpark estimate, and I figured out that I’ve written between 2,000 and 2,500 songs in my life.
As to unrecorded songs that I consider workable, I’d say I probably have enough for at least four or five albums. (I still call them albums.)
The hardest thing about performing now is trying to decide what to leave out.

How does it feel to get back in the game? Exactly when did you decide to jump back into things?
Do you have a day job? So the live CD is limited edition? How many?  Are you planning a new studio album?  Outside of the LA show, are you doing anymore shows? Would you tour if the opportunity arose? Are you married? Do you have a backup band? If so, who are they?

[I’m combining these]
Toward the end of 2004, as going to work at Sun got to be a harder and harder, more of a miserable grind, I was hearing this inner voice calling me back to music. The reasoning side of me kept saying, “You’re too old. Nobody gives a shit about what some 60-year-old dude has to say.” But the notion wouldn’t leave me alone. I started thinking, “Maybe you’re too old NOT to follow your heart. Suppose you’ve got another 20 or 25 years left on Earth — 30 if you’re really lucky. Suppose you’ve only got five or 10. Or two? Do you really want to spend them going to a job that no longer holds any joy for you?
I’d been aware for some time that the music business has changed. The artist has more control now. One doesn’t need a big agency or a major label to survive.
But the final push came when I let my friends persuade me to start a website.
The moment I got it up and running, I started hearing from people all over the world who have been touched by my songs.
Even MORE exciting, I posted demos of my new songs and fans write and tell me they like them too.
Scared half to death, I left my shit job and decided it was music or nothing.
I agree with the guy (I think it was Edison) who said that when you commit yourself to something, and it’s the RIGHT something, the very universe starts rising up to help you move in your chosen direction. Almost as soon as the website was up, Jackie and Arlo asked me if I’d like to play the GUTHRIE CENTER in Beckett, Massachusetts.
I got hired at The Luna Star Cafe, probably the premier folk club in South Florida. I got booked onto the Florida Folk Festival.
Earlier this year I released a limited edition live CD called Bob Lind Live at the Luna Star Cafe. Only 1,000 of them in print. When they go, they’re gone. I promised myself that I would post every review that came out — even the bad ones. To my delight, so far, there have been NO bad ones at all.
(Read about it here BTW: http://www.boblind.com/reviews.html)
I got a manager whose total belief in me and dedication to my career is almost frightening in its intensity.
Then, this July, out of nowhere, prestigious documentary video/film producers Paul Surratt and Ian Marshall contacted my manager about doing a DVD on my life and work.
And as creative consultant, they called in Aiyana Elliott, winner of the Sundance Prize for her documentary on her dad (The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack)
I’ve never felt better or more natural about my performing.
 

 

 

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