The MISUNDERSTOOD: 1965-1967
The Misunderstood, London, 1966
(From left to right) Drummer Rick Moe, Lead singer Richard "Rick" Brown, Steel Guitarist Glenn Ross Campbell, Guitarist Tony Hill, and Bass Player Steve Whiting
THE MISUNDERSTOOD : BEFORE THE DREAM FADED
After years of waiting, here's an album's worth of music by one of the psychedelic era's best loved groups: The Misunderstood. It's a collection of material that they recorded between 1965 and early 1967, when due to a variety of evils they were forced to disband.
The Misunderstood's story begins in Riverside, California in late 1963 when three teenagers, Greg Treadway (guitar/keyboards), Rick Moe (drums) and George Phelps (lead guitar), bitten by the surf music bug, decided to form their own group, the Blue Notes. As Greg Treadway recalls: 'Surf music was the thing along with a little rock'n' roll, our blue hair, blue guitars and blue shoes,. Oh yes! they were soon joined by Rick Brown on lead vocals harmonica and in early 1965 by Steve Whiting who obligingly switched from guitar to bass to complete the line up. They changed their name to The Misunderstood and embarked upon the usual rounds of rooftop parties, battle of the bands and armory dances. Shortly after Whiting joined they went into the local William Locy` studios to cut a 6 track acetate of material, which though self penned, owed much to the English r'n'b groups of the time, particularly to the likes of the Yardbirds, Animals etc. Although musically still finding their feet, the results showed what a powerful singer Rick Brown was developing into and that they were a fair match for the hundreds of other garage bands breaking out across the country. Phelps left soon after to play in a succession of other Riverside bands until his death in the late 1970's. His replacement was Glenn Ross Campbell on steel guitar.
Campbell's background had more than its fair share of mystery: his mother was some kind of mystic whilst he himself had spent his early years in England. He couldn't and still cannot play orthodox guitar: at the tender age of two he had been given a plastic guitar but instead of learning to play it in the normal way, had begun to scrape cutlery and other steel objects up and down its strings. He eventually progressed to steel guitar and by 1962 had become proficient enough to join another Riverside combo, the Goldtones, a surfing group, in time to feature on their powerful local hit 'Gutterball' which was stamped with his unique sound. Having recruited Glenn, The Misunderstood went back into the studios to cut two blues numbers as a single, Jimmy Reed's You Don't Have to Go' and Howlin' Wolf's 'Who's Been Talkin', good performances. but little to make them stand out from the crowd!
It was at this point that fate lent a hand in the shape of John Peel Ravencroft, an Englishman masquerading as disc jockey come Beatles expert who had by chance landed in San Bernadino after a stint on a radio station in Oklahoma. Ravencroft quickly became involved in the local scene and became mates with two other Riverside bands, the Mystics and the North Side Moss. Ravenscroft: 'I used to go to local gigs and one day the Mystics and the North Side Moss had a gig playing the opening of a new shopping centre in Riverside. Well the Mystics did their set but just before the North Side Moss were due to go on, there was this band that nobody had heard of who had also been booked. So I was planning to go and have a wander round the shopping centre while they were playing....but as I was about to drift off, I saw this group taking the stage and starting to tune up and they looked very weird and freaky so I decided to hang around and to see if they were any good. They called themselves, it transpired, The Misunderstood...well it was like one of your St. Paul on the road to Damascus experiences, it was stunning. They cut both the North Side Moss and the Mystics to peaces, they really did! Glenn Campbell looked incredibly thin and ill, with exceptionally long hair for those days and he was hunched over his steel guitar, playing the most unbelievable stuff I'd ever heard...and Steve Whiting was doing things like playing his bass with a bottleneck: they were quite fantastic.'
Ravenscroft was hooked and began to act as the group's mentor, giving them encouragement and getting them the occasional bookings. Early in 1966 he took them into Hollywood's Gold Star Studios: to cut another acetate. Though still blues based, they were re-arranging the songs so drastically that they sounded like nothing else on earth! The metal acetate of these sessions consisted of wild, hard rock versions of such chestnuts as 'Shake Your Money Maker', 'Smokestack Lightning' and an epic version of the Yardbirds' 'I'm Not Talkin', which took up the whole of side two complete with feedback passages and Eastern style raga steel guitar: at one point the whole group trouped out of the studio into the passage-way outside, leaving all their equipment whining with feedback before returning to finish the number off! That sort of thing became common place two years later but in early 1966 it was mindblowingly different. At one of their sporadic live appearances during this period, at a place called Pandora's Box in Los Angeles they completely freaked the audience out with their cyclical feedback effects, leaving the stage whilst their instruments fed back every few seconds., It was so stunning that even the barman closed the bar so that he could watch!
Realizing that they wouldn't get anywhere based in Riverside (California's equivalent of Lytham St. Annes), and at their mentor's suggestion, they decided to head for London in June 1966 in an attempt to make it! It was the turning point in their career in more ways than one: an army draft medical claimed Rick Brown just before they were due to fly out but undeterred the other four duly arrived in London. Greg Treadway takes up the story: 'John told us that his mom would be expecting us and that we could stay at her flat until we were settled. In fact she knew nothing about it. We stood in front of her flat for eight hours with with all our equipment whilst she called John back in the states to fine out 'what these four long hairs were doing outside'. But this was just the start of their troubles. Rick finally managed to make it over but in the meantime Greg was called up and returned home to be drafted into the Navy. A young guy, Tony Hill from South Shields replaced him.
Life was no bed of roses: the group survived on a hand to mouth basis stealing 50lb bags of rotting chips that chipshops would leave out on the pavements for collection by the dustbin men each morning, or whatever they could beg of appropriate. It was a crazy period with Glenn becoming addicted to scrumpy cider shilst Rick succumbed to the softer euphoriants of London's blossoming drug culture. It was a miracle that they managed to produce any music at all but thankfully through Ravenscroft's brother Alan they got a deal with Fontana Records. Under the supervision of producer Dick Leahy and engineer Roger, they went into the studio. According to Glenn: 'those two people believed in us and put their jobs on the line, only to receive less for their efforts than we did.' Thus at the peak of their powers, The Misunderstood recorded six songs (the whole of side one of this LP) which not only caught the mood of a changing era in pop music but more importantly were some of the most exciting, original and timeless peaces of music of all, Two of the songs, 'I Can Take You To The Sun' b/w 'Who Do You Love?' were released as a debut single. They played a reception in front of the press at Fontana's headquarters in Stanhope Place which quickly became the talk of the capital's music circles. Starting with 'My Mind', the group took off on an extended peace which they called 'The Trip (to Innerspace)', Glenn getting all kinds of Cape Canaveral sounds from his guitar whilst Rick intoned instructions on how to explore the inner psyche into his microphone, before they came back to earth with 'Children Of The Sun' (their psychedelic homage to the Yardbirds' 'Shapes Of Things') and finally glided to a soft climax with the perfect 'I Can Take You To The Sun', Tony and Rick sitting cross legged on the floor.
Soon the word was out and their appearance at the Marquee Club the following week drew such luminaries as the Pink Floyd, and the Move who, weren't slow to steal a few ideas from The Misunderstood's stage show for their own. Yet if musically they were at a creative zenith, managerially and socially things were falling apart. Having shaken off one dodgy manager, it was decided that Rick should return briefly to California to deal with his draft problems whilst Glenn, Steve and Rick Moe should go off to Europe to sort out their British visas and work permits. And that was basically the end of The Misunderstood. Rick was momentarily drafted but found army life traumatic, tripping on LSD whilst being terrorized by overly aggressive drill sergeants who forced him to crawl under live machine gun fire and race through clouds of poison gas. Eventually he got smuggled off the army base and a few days later found himself amidst the flower children of Haight Ashbury. But there was no solace for him there either and hounded by the authorities Rick suddenly reappeared in England to momentarily share a flat with Jeff Beck before the FBI got wind of this too. Meanwhile the others, after spending three days being ferried back and forth between Dover and Calais, were allowed back into England, had their permits revoked and were deported. So one of the most exciting bands of all time had its heart and soul torn out and we'll never know now whether after all that early promise, they would have scaled the same dizzy heights of success accorded to such contemporaries as Hendrix and the Pink Floyd, aspect of whose sound they predated by several months.
Ravenscroft returned to England soon after, changed his name to John Peel and the rest, as they say, is history. Whilst Steve and Rick Moe settled back into normality, Glenn returned to the UK and made a brave attempt to keep the group's name afloat. After two unremarkable singles, they became Juicy Lucy and had a modicum of success in the charts with a version of "Who Do You Love?' which wasn't a patch on The Misunderstood's version. Tony Hill kept going with an interesting group, High Tide who made two albums for U.A. in the early 1970's. Rick Brown subsequently reached India where he studied Sanskrit and meditation, having become a member of the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism. In 1974 after a disagreement with an older monk he fled to Southern India where he joined a friend who'd uncovered a ruby mine, which fired Rick's interest in gems, a field into which he then moved. In 1981 just as the dust was beginning to settle on their memory, Cherry Red Records reissued an EP of some of their finest songs and Rick Brown and Glenn Campbell decided to make one last attempt to fulfil their dream of playing music together, this time performing hard rock based on Indian ragas in a group called The Influence.
By any standards The Misunderstood were a remarkable group. The music on this record should be taken in the same spirit as it was intended back in the mid sixties, five young men exploring their music and themselves. As John Peel once called them: 'prophets of a new order'. After their passing the flood gates burst open and every group in the land was playing music of a 'progressive' nature. Turn up the first side of this LP and remember them the way they were, as pioneers.Nigel Cross, London,. 1982.
CONTACT:Cherry Red Records Ltd.,
Bishops Park House, 25-29 Fulham High Street,
London SW6 3JH, England
Tel: 0171 371 5844 Fax: 0171 384 1854