Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Very Candid Conversation with Derek MacKinnon

Derek MacKinnon and Me at Monstermania, Sept 2010

Most horror movie villains, such as Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, are played by a stuntman wearing a mask. The exception is when the villain has a unique personality like Freddy Krueger or Hannibal Lecter, and then an actor gets a chance to play the role. Derek MacKinnon’s portrayal of Kenny, the killer in Terror Train, is unique in the horror film world, being a performance that doesn’t rely on flashy personalities such as Hannibal, nor outrageous stunts, but an uncanny ability to mimic other people.

Terror Train, Kenny is a victim of a cruel fraternity prank. He gets his revenge on the fraternity’s brothers and sorority’s sisters by boarding a train where they are planning a costume party. He first gets on the train by posing as a female assistant to David Copperfield. After he kills one victim, he takes their costume and impersonates them to get closer to the next victim. Kenny’s strategy of impersonating people works largely on screen thanks to an excellent and skillful performance from Derek MacKinnon. [To see a trailer for Terror Train, please click here.]

After seeing
Terror Train, I was curious to see what other performances Derek had done. To my amazement, when I searched IMDb, I did not find any and wondered what had happened to him. I finally figured out what had happened when I met Derek at Monstermania. In addition to finding him very friendly and very funny (I probably haven’t laughed harder with any of my interview subjects), I found he had a lot of stories to tell me about Terror Train and what he was up to after it.

In this candid conversation, we not only talk about
Terror Train, but his life afterwards and what he has been up to. Derek gave me a lot of his time at Monstermania as well as with a follow-up phone call. I want to give him big thanks.

Jeff Cramer: All right, Derek. How did you get started in Terror Train?

Derek MacKinnon: It was a date. I was bringing a good friend for an audition, walked in, they saw the sight of him and they said, “No, you’re not good” and they looked at me and said, “Do you wanna audition?” And I had no idea what it was for or anything like that. I had my own show, I was on stage and they just pursued and pursued and didn’t tell me what it was for. I thought I was gonna do a bit part and I went for the audition. I got four callbacks, and finally they told me, “You got the part”, and I’m like, “Okay”, and I leave. As I was going to the door, they asked me, “Mr. MacKinnon, do you understand what just happened?” I said, “Yeah, I got a bit part in a movie.” They said, “No. You just signed up for the lead in a 20th Century Fox movie with Jamie Lee Curtis.” I had no idea. That was all by mistake.

JC: That was all by mistake how you got the part?

DM: Because I’d already heard Kenny was cast, and it was they’d paid him off to get me. The casting director came and saw me on stage, but she just liked the show so much she said, “You gotta see this.” The other thing, too, was David Copperfield, and I look much alike.

JC: Now just a little backtrack: what were you doing on stage at that time?

DM: I started drag in the early 70s. When I came to Montreal from Nova Scotia, I couldn’t speak French and you needed it to work here, so I went to a night club where they were taking auditions, I did it the following week and got the job. It wasn’t long after that I started my own troupe. We have a cabaret show, and there’s eight of us and we toured all in Canada, in the States and loved it. I had the most famous female impersonation trope. It was all on set. When you’re doing live it’s a whole different story because your audience changes every night. My lover, who was on the road with me,and my name in those days was Alisha Ali. He didn’t like her. He says, “Honest to God,” he says, “you were one fucking royal bitch.” Terror Train found me in a club, and the rest is history!

JC: Now in this film, it was already written that you were gonna be dressed up in drag as David Copperfield’s assistant.

DM: Well the public had no idea that that was coming, and one of the main things that they wanted, actually, was I’d be believable. Like from the beginning: I’m right there and you don’t know that I’m there. I’m a female druid.

JC: Right.

DM: And that was the whole gist of it. Actually, in the script you don’t know that he actually killed off David Copperfield’s assistant.

JC: I didn’t know that, no. I always thought that you fooled everyone, you even fooled David Copperfield into hiring you, even back then.

DM: David hired her. I killed her to get the job. Yeah, they wanted somebody who was going to be believable. Now the female part, that was two months in itself. There was no killing around me. There was no nothing. They wanted the female to be her, but they also wanted her to be Kenny, okay? So they had to distract the rest of the film from her. Do you understand what I’m saying?

JC: Yes.

DM: Okay, so for character analysis, I mean it was really, really important. She was filmed all at one time. They weren’t just throwing me in and out and all this shit. She had to be one character, and legitimate all the way through. So they shot just the female for literally two months.

JC: Yeah.

DM: And there’s a scene that’s not there.

JC: What’s that?

DM: Well, Ben Johnson and I – he was suppose to be a love interest of mine.

JC: Really?

DM: Yeah, and I got really, really upset. I didn’t want to do it, because he was suppose to kiss me.

JC: I see.

DM: You know when I’m between the cars?

JC: Yeah, between the cars.

DM: Yeah. Well, he’s supposed to be my boyfriend. They were trying to make the twist that’s how I got on the train.

JC: Oh, I see.

DM: Okay. So he was supposed to be my love interest and I didn’t want to go that route, so this is where it comes into writer versus me. They just basically said, “Derek, you know, this would be fantastic.” And I was really upset. I mean, I’m dealing with a nominated – like, you know, an Academy Award-winning star. At that point, I’d never met Ben, okay, and I was just – oh, totally freaked. And it was the 1980s, and you don’t kiss another man. Not Ben Johnson.

JC: Right.

DM: And so I just got really, really upset. You know what he did. He called me in my trailer, and said “You get your fucking butt over here now.” I go over, and there he is, holier than thou. And I walk in, and say, “Mr. Johnson.” He says, “Number one, my name is Ben. Number two, what the fuck’s wrong with you?” I said, “I just don’t feel it’s right.” He looked at me and he says, “What you afraid of?” I said, “Well, you’ve won your Academy.” He says, “Derek, I’m going to tell you right now. You’re one of the best female roles I’ve ever seen in my life. Just remember, it’s just a part. That’s all it is.” I said “Yeah, but then I don’t want you to –” and he said, “It’s not about me. If the audience is not that fucking smart, it’s not your fault.”

JC: That’s great.

DM: And that is what it was all about. And he said, “I don’t have a problem.”

JC: Wow.

DM: And remember, that’s when AIDS and everything else is just coming out. And yeah, it was pretty rough. So anyway, we shot the scene, and you know, I was good about it, but I’ve got to tell you, too, it also helped that he got me so fucking pissed. He pulled out a bottle of vodka out of the freezer, and that’s when we were having the conversation. He said, “Now tell me what your problem is.” And you know, I mean, bless him. What a gentleman. I mean, to treat me like that, you know. That was one of my first lessons in the film industry. He was definitely decent, but I was right. It would not have swum for the film. I think the audience would have been more confused. Maybe if you’d shown it earlier.

JC: I would have been confused in this scene, unless they had the scene of you killing David Copperfield’s assistant.

DM: Well okay, I do understand what they were trying to do, but I would have said bring her out with them at the beginning. But also, if Ben Johnson was having a romance with the assistant, I would have done him in first and foremost. So this is where the writer just went, “Oh, shit! Yeah! Right!” So that’s why that was knocked out, but I thought it was an interesting ploy.

JC: Okay. Let’s talk more about Kenny himself.

DM: It was very behind-the-scenes and one of the smartest things, I think, that they did was we all had to create synopsis of characters. So Kenny is 19 years old. He’s disturbed, very berserk. So we wrote our own mystery, all of us. The writer actually used what we wrote and put it into the script. The ideas I wrote is that I’m a single child, my parents were older, that type of thing, so you understand what Kenny was: unloved, left alone.

JC: At one point in Terror Train, they talk about that at one point you had spent some time in a mental institution.

DM: That was because that was what I wrote.

JC: They mentioned that you killed someone in the past.

DM: Yes, but I wrote this. I was a little boy and I was going out and I’m from a rural area, and I was backing up a truck and my mother was putting out the garbage and I ran over my mom, my mistake.

JC: Now, unlike Friday The 13th, you’re wearing all the masks. This is not some stuntman wearing it. Everything from Groucho Marx to that green monster, that is you.

DM: Do you know that I was the only killer who ever played eleven parts?

Two of the eleven parts Derek played

JC: I would imagine that, because I don’t know of many films where the killer takes on the ––

DM: Their persona. I had to study each and every one of them. Literally, I’d sit with them for a week, and know their walk, the way that they moved, everything, to make this person real. I’m the great mimic, but I mean more in comedy. Like I can take your voice, I can do you in a minute. Just sit with you for five minutes.

JC: Okay.

DM: But this is one thing you knew about me. That they saw it on stage and like live that I could do it. I could just talk to somebody who was heckling, and I could become them in a minute. And so that’s what they saw, and so I could become you really quick.

John Alcott, who was my lighting man. You know what else he did?

JC: A Clockwork Orange, and Barry Lyndon.

DM: 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was my lighting man, and he wanted everyone to know that I was behind that mask, and that there was no stand-in. So he used a pen light, and it was always in my eyes, so you always know it’s me. And he would use that pen light to – it drove me crazy. And Roger [Spottiswode, the director] would give me my direction, but John was more my director. He directed me all the way. Yeah, he told me how to move, where to look. The whole bit. And I trusted him. I mean, he was beyond reproach. The only thing I didn’t like about him is – John – was that he always filled the rooms full of smoke. You know what it was for?

JC: It was for the party atmosphere?

DM: No, no. Not the party. Every scene. The smoke is a filter for lighting. Yeah, so every scene was like smoking twenty packs of fucking cigarettes. When you walked on the set he had this smoker going on. You’re coughing and you’re choking and everything else because it was charcoal. He insisted on it. So that’s every scene that you see the smoke and it’s natural filter. That’s why you see the color come out, that it’s very soft. It’s smooth. You’ve got to remember, too, that we had one of the biggest budgets for a horror film. Ever.

JC: Really?

DM: Yeah, it was $3.5 million. Back then it was Canadian, so you’re looking at it was like $7 million.

JC: Could you talk about the opening scene in the film where you go crazy?

DM: That was never in my script.

JC: Really?

DM: That was kept from me. The first five pages I never saw. Everyone else did, but I never saw it. On the night of shooting the scene, they took me out to dinner. They got me loaded. I had a really nice time, and you know, I was ready to do the scene. I go in, and they go, “Okay, Derek, are you okay?” I say, “Yeah. Let’s get this done.”

What really got me was when we shot it, there was a lot of people that didn’t have to be there. David Copperfield flew in. Everybody. We were in a mansion, and I was doing it upstairs. I remember coming through the living room downstairs, and they were all there. Jamie and everybody. So they all knew. I just thought it was strange that – why are they here? I thought well, maybe they’re going to surprise me.

I went through five walk-throughs, and nothing that you saw there was what I walked through. It was just what I was supposed to do.I walk in and what you’re seeing, that was real, if you truly look at it. I wasn’t supposed to be wrapped up in those drapes and everything else. That was for real. Because I walked on this woman I didn’t even know, and she was split wide open where my foot went right through.

JC: So this was a real corpse?

DM: No, no, no. This was a live woman.

JC: Okay.

DM: But with special effects, they had her ripped wide open. And when I put my foot in, I mean blood squished through my toes, okay? The jelly and everything else. And I freaked. And that’s what you’re seeing. I got caught in the drape, and it just went from there. But it was five cameras setup, so I knew I was in shit. I walked in and I saw five cameras – “This isn’t good” – which means one take, if they’re going for the surprise.

JC: They got it.

DM: Yeah, like we did not retake that in way or shape. That was the one and only take. But they knew what they were doing. Roger was nasty. He kept me away from all the actors. I was, like, in solitude. I never dealt with any unless I was on set with them, and yet we all lived together. And the only time I was allowed out with them was when we did publicity, and that was it. So basically I was with the crew. The crew loved me. They found out that I was not Kenny. You know, I could be a lot more fun, which is good because your crew is what makes you. You’re not any better than they are. They do your makeup and hair. So if I make them my friends, I’m going to come off good.

I have to say Roger was spot-on, okay, and how he – maybe not in the best way, I mean emotionally, because it damaged me to a certain degree, but he got the character. He got what he wanted, but it certainly was hard.

JC: There are two other scenes I want to talk about in Terror Train. First, let’s talk about the bathroom scene where you smash the guy’s head through a mirror. You know?

DM: Yeah, with Anthony Sherwood. We must have done that scene about seventeen times. I kept smashing his head into the mirror, and it wouldn’t break. Everyone is like “what the fuck is going on?” They wanted me to really push him, you know, to break it, but I didn’t want to hurt Anthony. He’s a good friend. So finally they put a stand-in and they would throw him into it. I kept doing this, and with the stuntman I could care less. They even put a point underneath the mask that it would crack it. Anyway, you know what the problem was?

JC: What?

DM: It was an industrial mirror, and they forgot to put the breakaway mirror in. So I mean no – I blackened the stuntman’s eyes, and he had this huge bruise on the front of his forehead when I finally did it, and I got him through. But you know what’s funny? Have you ever been in a bathroom on a train?

JC: Yes.

DM: Okay, you know how small it is?

JC: I know. Very Small.

DM: Okay. Try seventeen people in there.

JC: How the hell did you get seventeen people in there?

DM: I was literally standing on the cameraman’s fucking chest, okay, doing this. That was the other problem, okay? There was seventeen people in there. I mean, you want to talk about – it was probably one of the most claustrophobic things after this for movies. I don’t want to do anything with wheels. You know, I want wide open spaces. Because I mean, I was under things, in things. You know what I mean? Throughout the film, it was extremely claustrophobic. Yeah, they got me seriously paranoid, so that scene was one of the harder ones to do.

JC: One other scene that I always had a question with is the one in which Doc (Hart Bochner) is talking to Mo (Timothy Webber). Then they, along with everyone else, watch a magic trick performed by you and David Copperfield. After the trick is over, Doc turns to Mo and Mo is dead, stabbed in the heart. How did you stab Mo in front of a whole crowd? Did you disappear when you did that?

DM: No. I’m there. I’m there. Did you not notice that? Aren’t I in the middle of ––

JC: Yeah, because David’s performing his magic trick.

DM: Yeah, but did I not just appear in the middle of the room?

JC: Yes.

DM: Think about it.

JC: That’s when you stabbed him?

DM: You remember, I have the cape. I’m in the middle of the room. He’s right beside me and then I take my arm with the cape and I go one way. How do you think that happened?

JC: But I’m amazed that you killed him in front of everyone with no witnesses and no sign of struggle from Mo.

DM: No, you weren’t – that was the whole thing. And we wanted that murder to look like “how the hell did that happen?” The critics got it in New York. They went “That’s super intelligent.” I appear in the middle of the room, and I just take my arm to take my bow. What’s underneath that cape?

JC: Oh, the knife.

DM: Yeah. You’ll see me bend over, and I take a bow, and I look over to the side. When I take my bow, guess who gets it?

JC: Mo!

DM: Then the next thing you see his heart comes out. Oh my God! You’ll see a smirk on my face.

It was all for shock value. I think it’s cool. I knew that would be the one thing a lot of people cannot figure that out. You have to watch it again.

JC: Right, I’ll probably watch it again. Yeah.

DM: No, they wanted to make it like you had to think. I think [screenwriter] T.Y. Drake did extremely well in writing it about where I was and how I did it. Like there was time, if you noticed – there’s always time for me to change out of female garb. And to do Mo, I didn’t have time to change.

My favorite killing though was of Hart Bochner. Yeah. I had a ball, personally. He just irritated the crap out of me. Now he’s a method actor, and I don’t understand method acting.

JC: Speaking of other people in the film, there’s two people I like to talk about in the film. First guy is David Copperfield.

DM: I had to stay with David to learn all the magic. I had to sign a waiver and all that, that I would never tell how things were done. It’s amazing. One thing David said, “When you’re watching me, don’t look for it and you’ll see it.” It’s actually very simple. I can do it now on stage. I can disappear and reappear anywhere I want.

Okay, you have to understand it’s an illusion. There’s no camera tricks in the film or anything like that, so we gave it – everything is in the timing. And he was – David is extremely – what’s the word I’m looking for? It has to be exactly right, okay, and he was something to work with. He was fantastic.

There was one funny time on Terror Train when we were in the middle of the scene, and I’m being levitated, and I’m halfway up, okay, and all of a sudden we run out of film, so they have to reload. So there’s another actor that was with us and a bit of the crew that he knew. And they were literally talking over me like I was the dining room table, and they were talking about the People’s Choice award that David had just won. I’m going, “Guys, can we get this done, please?” because you have to be – like everything with continuity. You have to stay in exactly the same spot. And so here I am hanging, okay? And you want to talk about uncomfortable. That’s not the word, and that went on for like forty-five minutes. And you know, with all the makeup and the hair, and you know, the whole shit, but it was kind of cute.

There was another moment, you know the scene with David and I, in the backroom where he says, “They don’t like me” and I, as her, went, “Oh, for God’s sake”?

JC: Yes.

DM: That took sixty-two takes.

JC: Sixty-two takes?

DM: Sixty-two.

JC: Why did it take sixty-two?

DM: Because he couldn’t get his line out. All he says is, “They’re not going to like me”. I couldn’t believe this. At one point, they said, “Okay, it’s a wrap for Derek.” I’m done as her, okay? They take my nails off, and you know, the whole shit. Next thing you hear on the walkie is, “We need Derek back”. So they had to redo me, so another hour in makeup. Okay. I go back and at this point I’m fucking furious. And you know, my day is finished as far as I’m concerned.

So I go back and I turn and look at David and I said, “How stupid can you be?” And he goes, “What? “ And I go, “It’s one line! One fucking line!” He goes, “Yeah.” I said, “Think about it. If you’re doing a 6 year old’s birthday party, are you pissed off?” He said, “Yes.” And I said, “That’s all you have to think about.” And sure enough, one take and it was done. That was unbelievable.

JC: Just for this one damned line?

DM: One fucking line. And he still to this day, he swore to God he’d never do another movie.

JC: That’s the reason why.

DM: That’s the reason why.

JC: That probably was a smart decision after that. You probably aren’t meant to be an actor. Stick to your day job with magic tricks, you know?

DM: But what the ironic part is that he’s so meticulous. And it was his own show, but you know, everything is practice with him, dialogue. Like when I first met him, he went through this – and I thought he was absolutely sweet and everything, until I went and I did a show with him. I think it was Merv Griffin or something.

I’m in the greenroom, and I’m next, you know, coming after him, and I’m watching him, and it was the same fucking dialogue as the day that I met him. And I walked up to him and looked at him and I went, “David.” He turned around and I said, “That was rehearsed?” Do you know what I mean? Like there was no reality to it. I mean, holy fuck.

JC: OK, now the next person that I’m sure that everyone is curious about: Jamie Lee Curtis. What was your relationship with her?

DM: We didn’t. We did not associate, only after the fact to do interviews and things like that. Matter of fact, we didn’t meet each other again until we did – I don’t remember if it was Merv Griffin or something like that. They kept me completely separate from all of them, everybody on the set.

JC: You two were together a lot in the final fighting scene. It doesn’t look like there were any stunt doubles between you two fighting.

DM: There were none. That was a five-camera setup. It was done in one take. That was the only time we were on set together and we had to play against each other. We weren’t supposed to be friendly anyway. I mean, you couldn’t see me. I mean, nothing in that scene that you see is fake. I did beat the crap out of her and she let it go. She said, “Let him.” You know when her head goes down on the door and she hits that knob?

JC: Yes.

DM: That’s for fucking real. And when I get her under the bed? When I’m sprawled under the bed, she kicked me in the nuts.

JC: Oh, shit.

DM: And I just went stupid, and I went, “No way, you son-of-a-bitch.” And they told me, “For God’s sake don’t rip her blouse.” Well, you notice I did.

JC: Yes.

DM: I just grabbed her right by the fucking tits and dragged her out. The reason they didn’t want me ripping her blouse off is she didn’t have a breast augmentation and they didn’t want to show that she was flat.

JC: [Laughter]

DM: They kept telling me, “Don’t do it, don’t do it.” I think it was stuck in my head: “Okay, cunt, you’re not getting away with this. Don’t kick me in the nuts and think you’re getting fucking away with it.” So I mean, that scene – seriously, I mean, there’s five cameras, and there was no ifs, ands or buts. I mean, she was really crawling under that bed. She was terrified. And when I got her out of there, they just – it’s like they literally had to put me away. Okay, to continue the scene. You know, to move the cameras. When I threw her head against that fucking wall, yeah, that was real. She even looked at me. The tears were in her eyes, and she looked at me and said “Derek.” Like it’s not Kenny. She talked to me, “Derek. You know, get Kenny out of you. Come back.” And you know, I did.

There were some accidents though. You know, when I get the spoke in the eye?

JC: Right, when she’s in the little wire cage?

DM: Yeah, when she’s in the cage. That was the only time a stuntman was brought in, the reason being that I was dead tired, okay? I wanted to do it and I kept saying, “No, I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it”. And they go, “No, no, no, Derek. This is – we just need the close-up. And you know, we’ll tape you, you know, with your eyes and everything else. “

Anyway, what happened was is the guy steps in, and I’m standing there watching this whole thing. She’s in the cage, and anyway, she grabs the thing and she pushes it in his face. Well what happens was is because the scene was going so well, is they forgot to put the collapsible one in. It was a real spoke.

JC: Oh, God.

DM: And the guy got it right through the face. I’m not joking. He almost lost his eye. Jamie got really upset when she did that to his face, and that could have been me. She walked off the set. Yeah, it took her two days to get back on.

JC: Shit.

DM: There were other accidents. You know, when I put the axe through the window?

JC: Yes.

DM: Okay, well she got eighteen stitches. Not Jamie. It was a stand-in for her. There were accidents for me. One thing that they didn’t bother to tell me was, you know when I’m popping the light bulb?

JC: Yes.

DM: Okay, now picture this. I’m wearing a wool robe that’s satin lined, soaking, wringing wet, and I’ve got a fourteen-pound iron fucking goddamn tractor wrench popping those light bulbs in live sockets. If I would have connected right with one of those ––

JC: You would have been electrocuted.

DM: I’d have been toast.

JC: Yes.

DM: And nobody realizes that. Remember, I’m covered in blood. Okay, this is phony blood which is like done with jelly and jam, all kinds of shit. And when you pop a light bulb, a light bulb sucks in first and then explodes. So there was the finest fibers all over me, I break eight light bulbs. When they took that robe off , every one of them went right in through my clothing. The glass was unreal, and they literally had to soak my arms in water before they could do – like they couldn’t wipe me. I mean, I was covered in glass. And like you know, at that point they didn’t care, okay?

So when the train was – they got excited as we were doing it so well, a lot of it was just one take, and they just got really super excited. Okay, good: Let’s move it, move it, move it, you know? And it was hard.

Jamie does not promote Terror Train is because I came off more than she did. And that didn’t sit right with her and I don’t know if you noticed, but the cover has now changed

JC: What’s changed with the cover now?

DM: The original cover was me. The new one is her. I’m behind her. Why do you think they did that?

JC: Why?

DM: She wanted to be first and foremost. It was always me. Not her. On the cover, now it’s her. You get my drift?

Original and new cover for Terror Train

When my convention agent Sean Clark brought her a laserdisc of Terror Train for her to sign, she looked at it, she flipped it over, signed the back of it. She wouldn’t sign the front of it. Sean said, “I really want you to do it on the front,” and she says, “No, that’s Derek.” She wouldn’t sign it because it has the original cover.

JC: I’ve heard some bizarre stories with her, with the horror stuff.

DM: The ironic part is, is I think whereas she’s making the biggest mistake in the world that she doesn’t want to be the scream queen, but she always was. Why isn’t she promoting it? You know, it’s what made her career and she doesn’t want to know from it. Sean said to me, “Between the three of you – you, David Copperfield, and Jamie – would be there for a week, just signing copies of Terror Train.” I said, “Don’t think about it. It’s not happening.” It might later on. I think she’s going to kind of humble herself. I mean, we’re still friends.

I’ve got to tell you, that was an honor when she – she turned twenty-one on the set, and both her mother and father came. So you know, I got to meet Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh – not together. They were not exactly friendly. But yeah, it was interesting to meet them. It was nice. I know he only died a couple of weeks ago, but it was an honor to meet the man and her.

JC: So Terror Train comes out, but we don’t hear from you anymore after that. What happened?

DM: Well, after Terror Train finished shooting, Kenny was there for fucking eight months. To get him out after the film was God awful. He lived within me and I needed him out. Because I’m nowhere near that type of a person. I raised him, and then to get rid of him is really hard. Nobody at my house for Thanksgiving wanted me to carve the turkey.

20th Century owned a part of me after Terror Train. I had a five year contract with then. They told me what I could and could not do. Anything that Aaron Spelling owned is what you did and that was basically it. Anything that I did, it had to be Kenny. They would not allow me to explore comedy, or drama, or anything like this. It had to be horror. You know, every character I was offered was Kenny. I got a few other pictures offers – Happy Birthday To Me, My Bloody Valentine, Death Ship. All of those were given to me. I didn’t want to do them. I think that would have been typecast had I done that. I don’t want to be a Freddy or Jason.

JC: I see.

DM: It got extremely boring. And you know, for five years. Can you imagine? I knew I had so much more in me, and I couldn’t wait for that contract to go so I could start doing independent films. While I was under contract with 20th Century Fox, I started my own series. I did a pilot of which we did six, which you know, was ordered. The ironic part was, it’s before Will and Grace came out. I was the original. I was the first openly gay character ever on T.V. The censor boards, of course, wouldn’t allow it then. Okay, and then in 1980, you have to understand something. Okay? I’m gay. In the 1980s, it was taboo, especially with 20th Century Fox.

Terror Train was probably one of the greatest moments in my life. Also, it’s a double-edge sword. When you’re twenty-two years old, your whole life has changed. People tell you that you can do this, and you can’t do that. My boyfriend was told that he wasn’t allowed to be within twenty feet of me for pictures.

JC: Oh.

DM: So it embarrassed me. You have to understand, like in the ‘80s, I wasn’t allowed to be me. It wasn’t fair to my lover that he was – I mean, this is the man that made my career. I mean, he made me. Okay, he got me across the country. He did the whole bit. And he was basically denied, and you know, literally told, and he just looked at me and you could see that. He just couldn’t handle it and I don’t blame him. You know, today it wouldn’t matter. You know, like when I look at Neil Patrick Harris, you know, who plays one of the most vile fucking womanizers on T.V.

JC: Yes.

DM: And yet he’s gay. Why now do they accept it and not then? But you know, when I was there it had to do with Rock Hudson with Linda Evans getting kissed, and she thought she was going to have AIDS and yadda yadda. That put a stop to everything. And I would have been poisoned. I was told by 20th Century “Don’t say a word. Don’t do this.” I wasn’t allowed to go to Gay Pride. I got married. They actually married me off.

JC: So you married a woman?

DM: Yep, that was to save my name, okay, for the box office. Because you know, like at that time they told me my audience was between the ages of fourteen to thirty, to forty-two. I was gay, and was known to be gay, then my reality would not – you know, they might as well just wash it down the drain. You know, I wasn’t worth anything. Pretty sad. So it totally – as I said, it’s a double-edge sword. However, my lover and I, we’re back together.

JC: Oh, that’s great. That’s great.

DM: We spent ten years together then. Thirty years later we’re back together.

JC: Well, what were some of the independent films you did after your five-year contract?

DM: The thing is I don’t think you would have heard anything that happened due to the fact that, you know, I’m Canadian, and the thing is that what’s in Canada doesn’t go, let’s say, worldwide, okay? You know, what’s in Canada stays in Canada in a sense.

Oh, I did My Lovely Bank. I did Sentense Diabolique. You see, the thing is that you’ve got to remember that this is a dual language country. I also do French, so a lot of those would not be seen. They’d be considered a foreign film. I had a ball. And you know, like I mean people actually saw that there was another dimension from me, and I needed that.

A lot of people used to say to me, “You know, Derek, because you are gay, did you get picked for gay parts?” No. As a matter of fact, there was a couple of parts that I did. One time was with James Orr, who at that time was going out with Farrah Fawcett.

JC: Do you know what happened between James and Farrah?

DM: Yeah, well he beat the crap out of her.

JC: Right. That story. Yes.

DM: So anyway, James and I did this scene and I was a hairdresser. He turned and looked at me, and he says, “You’ve got to be gayer”. I turned to him, I looked at him, and I said, “Do you think that we’re all cookie cutters? Are all the gays you met all your life just limp-wristed fucking idiots? Because that’s not the gay community.” He turned and looked at me, and he said, “Well, what do you mean?” I said, “Well, you wouldn’t be able to do this film with the beauty in it and everything else if it wasn’t for gay people. Such as makeup, hair, set design. Everything else. So back off, bastard.”

I got a career, but I lost a relationship. And then after it got to the point where I couldn’t have another one, not without trying, that’s when I decided that “Okay, I’m sick and tired of being in front of a camera, and I want to know what goes on behind the camera”. I went to find out what the suits were really actually talking about. That how could you do this to somebody else’s life? And then I found out, they don’t give a rat’s ass. All I was was just the dollar. And you know, if you get the suit, you’ve got the part. Talent has nothing to do with it.

JC: What did you do behind the camera?

DM: I started working with Taurus 7 and I was behind the scenes for almost seven years. I worked with Cronenberg, I did rewrites and I cast. I did all kinds of things. During that time, that’s where independent became more important to me, because these people truly love what they’re doing.

JC: I understand there was a documentary about you. Could you tell me a little more about that film?

DM: The documentary is called Lip Gloss. It is about the under-belly of the live entertainment world here in Montreal. It took 6 years to do and it went over very well. We even opened the Montreal World Film Festival!!

Derek looing for undies in Lip Gloss

JC: There was also a film you did a year and half ago called Family Motel. Tell me about that one.

DM: When I did Family Motel, I was just tickled to death. That part was not written. They just wanted me in the picture, and I wrote my part. And to come up with this character where I’m going to play an aging fucking old drag queen! The wife drops the kid off on me, and I have a little eight-year-old kid that’s staying in the hotel with me while I’m playing in the lounge downstairs. I’m not exactly happy about myself, especially with the kid.

The next thing you see is I’ve got the kid by the hand and I’m coming through the lobby, and there’s this Indian family that’s there. It’s all about immigration. He says, “You’re nothing but an old fucking fag, you fucking cunt.” He’s going on right in front of these people, and my child and I just let it fucking rip. And finally the scene is, is that as I’m walking out the door, this woman, this Indian woman, turns and she’s wearing all the garb and everything else, and I say, “Honey, welcome to the country. If he can do this to me, can you imagine what he’s going to do to you?” And that was it.

Derek and Child in Family Motel

JC: That was a good line. Yeah.

DM: So I mean, I’m in my own country, okay? So that kind of said it, and we got an award.

JC: That’s great.

DM: Yeah, four of them in New York.

JC: We met at Monstermania. That was your first horror convention appearance. Tell me your thoughts on that.

DM: When they dragged me out to do this, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to, to be very honest with you. In Canada we don’t charge for an autograph, okay? Like I just feel privileged that somebody would come up to me and know who I am. But here, they don’t do it the way that the Americans do. I’m allowed to have a hot meal. You know, wait till I’m finished dinner and then come over. You know, not join – or in the middle of it – you know, to intrude. So I don’t think the celebrity concept is as big here as it is in the States. They know who I am, but they just respect my privacy.

Now when I did do this, when I went to the convention, I was extremely surprised. This is thirty years after Terror Train, the minute I hit the airport it started. “Mr. MacKinnon, can I have your autograph?” I turn and I look at them. You know, like I’m pitch black, you know, back in those days, and now I have gray hair.

When I get there, I find out through the promoters that the fans like the victims to a certain extent, but it’s the killer that they’re really interested in. Robert Englund (who plays Freddy Krueger) and I are friends. I look at him, and I’m like, “Robert, what’s it like for you? “ He looks at me and he says, “I think you’re about to find out, Derek.”

JC: [Laughter]

DM: Well, I did find out, and I found out I was the only killer that people loved. You know, like I just thought that was kind of funny. The interest that I found was phenomenal. I didn’t realize that so many were on my side, you know, watching the film.

JC: Oh, absolutely. I can tell you myself, I was on your side throughout that whole film. I mean, about the only person you sympathize with - but she didn’t die - was Jamie Lee Curtis. That was about it. You know?

DM: Well, I wasn’t being looked at as a killer. That got me. Most of them, you know, everybody doesn’t want to know from them, you know, and you know, I’m not sawing up people and all that shit just out of revenge. He had a reason.

It’s a bit overwhelming when you do a convention, but I think what I really love about it is the first time you don’t know any of your peers who also acted in horror films, and you find out we all have the same stories. It’s amazing.

Like a lot of them, you know, not the best childhood. We were all left alone. After you got your star, everybody just picked up and leaves you. We do a lot of forgettable films. When we do a film there’s a working title. We don’t know what they change it to after the fact. So there are times I’m in my house and I’m just fooling around, the TV is on and I go, “Hmm, I remember that line” and sure enough, it’s a film I did and had no idea.

I was asking Linda Blair and Robert Englund, “Would anybody remember you in anything else other than Freddy and The Exorcist?” We all said the same thing .We do the one character in our life that will be most memorable. They’ll all be written on our tombstones. No matter what you’ve done, even if you were nominated for an Academy, you’re only known for that one part.

But the one thing that was nice is that all my fans are saying I was the most approachable.

JC: Well, as a horror fan myself, I would agree with that.

DM: They could actually talk to me and, you know, I wasn’t – like Sean kept telling me, “You know, don’t let them take photos and all that.” Well, they didn’t, only if I said it was OK. But you know, for them , being a promoter, it’s money out of their pockets I think. Right?

JC: Right. They get a percentage, from what I understand, of your autographs.

DM: Oh, yeah. I was being interviewed and this one person, he said “What do you think, this being your first convention?” I said it’s pretty much like prostitution. [Laughter] I said, “I’ve never charged for anything in my life,” and he said “Yes.” I said, “I just gave it away”, so I said, “Like, basically, that makes me a whore. Right?”And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, now I feel like a slut.” [Laughter] And he says, “Why?” I said, “Well, nothing less than a prostitute.” And I said, “My pimp is my agent.”And that’s the truth.

Did I tell you what happened when we were in Baltimore?

JC: No.

DM: I was in the bathroom. Sean was in there with me and this guy took a picture. Sean just looked at me and said, “Fuck. They just don’t give a shit.” And I turned and looked at the guy, and I said, “Listen, if it turns out, could you send it to Playgirl?” Sean says, “You’ve got an answer for absolutely everything, Derek.” I thank my fans, you know. Without them I wouldn’t exist.

JC: Are you planning on doing any other conventions?

DM: Okay, so like I’m doing this Screamfest, and there’s another one and I’m doing in Florida at the same time. There’s another one in Illinois. All three of them are going on at the same time. So apparently I’m going to be doing them, but I’m going to have to hopscotch. Monstermania was my birth and that was a tryout. Now I’m booked for everything, but Sean doesn’t want me in certain shows.

JC: Okay. Anything else on the horizon?

DM: Well, I swore I wouldn’t do horror again, but I’m gonna. Robert Englund and I are going do a film. Now, we’ve both played killers, but can you imagine having four killers in the same movie? Who’s doing it?

JC: You mean only one of you is going to be the killer.

DM: Of course.

JC: So they have four people that have played killers, but you’re not supposed to know which one it is.

DM: Yeah. Don’t you think that would be rather interesting? This is what we’re tossing together. It’s already been brought up to us. I say “Bring a script and we’ll see.”

I have a project with Matt Cloude. I’m going to do something with him. He wrote a part specifically for me. It’ll be interesting to see. I get the script this week, but I’ve already agreed that I would do it, and yeah, he’s a pretty good writer. It’s nice that now I’m in collaboration where I’m allowed to write for myself as well, okay? So when I see the script, I can go to the writer and go, “Hey, you know, this doesn’t fit”. I really get into my characters.

On November 6, I’m going be doing Dead Zone with Kelsey Grammer, where it’s going to be live throughout the world. Everyone can ask me questions. It’s a half-hour show.

JC: How did this happen?

DM: Actually, it was funny. I was on Facebook, and they came to me. You have to understand that I’ve only been on Facebook for six months.

JC: It’s funny when you added me as a friend: you were in the hundreds, and now you have like thousands of friends.

DM: Yeah. I know. It’s just unbelievable. The opportunities are just flying out the window. Well you know, it’s almost like there’s a resurgence of me. Like it’s a reverse, you know, like “Where the fuck have you been?”

JC: So it’s like a whole reawakening thirty years later.

DM: Well, there’s been a lot. Like I only did Family Motel a year and a half ago. So like no, I have not been away.

JC: No. I know, but America didn’t know what was going on.

DM: No, and why would they? I mean, you know, I wasn’t doing the horror genre, but I’m just totally amazed that they’re there. You know, and for one character. It’s just amazing.

With this show, The Dead Zone, they’re asking to give them stuff that’s never been seen. Exclusive to them. So I talked to a couple of producers and directors and I said, “Don’t send them to me. I want to be surprised myself at what’s out there”. The producers just keep going, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” I can’t wait to see what wow is.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Very Candid Conversation with Stevie Hill

Bloodrock is a band from Ft. Worth, Texas that existed from 1969 to 1975. They are best known for their only Top 40 hit, “D.O.A.” The song “D.O.A.” deals with a plane crash. “D.O.A.” is propelled by a guitar riff simulating a siren. There had been previous songs such as J. Frank Wilson’s “Last Kiss” and The Everly Brothers’ “Ebony Eyes” that dealt with plane crashes. However, those songs were told from the viewpoint of someone who had lost a loved one on the plane. “D.O.A” is unique because it is told from a point of view of someone who was in the crash. The chorus is, “I remember we were flying along and hit something in the air.” Bloodrock would follow up on the success of “D.O.A” by touring with Jimi Hendrix and Grand Funk Railroad.

However, the success of “D.O.A” would become a double-edged sword for Bloodrock. Later on, the group had a turnover in personnel, and as a result, the music changed. What was once hard rock became progressive jazz fusion. Those who were fans of the original style did not warm up to the new style of music. Shortly after, the band would dissolve.

Keyboardist Stevie Hill (the only member besides Ed Grundy who was in all lineups of Bloodrock), sadly, became stricken with leukemia. As a result, he and four of the original six members reunited to hold a concert in Ft. Worth to raise money for Stevie’s medical treatments. The show was a sold-out success.

I contacted Stevie through his website to discuss with him the history of Bloodrock. In this candid conversation, we discuss both lineups of Bloodrock and the way they came up with the idea of “D.O.A.” We also discuss what Stevie was up to between the breakup of Bloodrock and the reunion concert. I want to thank Jeanie for setting up my interview with Stevie, but most of all, I want to thank Stevie. Stevie is not in the healthiest of spirits, but he is a real pro and has completed this interview, which I am very thankful for.

Jeff Cramer: How did you develop an interest in music? What encouraged you to get down behind the piano or keyboard?

Stevie Hill: Let’s see. Well, I was just attracted to music and enjoyed it, and then when I was nine years old, they -- my parents thought I was ready for music lessons. So they rented a little spinet and started me on music lessons when I was nine. I just wanted to make music, and that seemed like a really logical instrument to start on.

JC: Most pianists start the classical trained route and then move into other things like jazz and rock. Did you follow a similar pattern?

SH: I did my first recital when I was nine. Then I switched over to another teacher when I was twelve. I was working on classical stuff (technique mainly), just trying to teach me -- oh, trying to make me do scales and stuff like that. And just trying to get me literate in music, where I could read it and I could notate it, which later on became really important. The idea of that --that’s something that I still do today: I notate nearly all my songs. You can actually pick up a piece of paper and the song’ll be on there, so that helps out, too.

I went up to North Texas, up in Denton, and I took voice up there. In high school, I took a couple of music theory classes, but I stayed with that teacher from age twelve to about age eighteen, and they were -- those teachers, they always want you to do those recitals, and so I was always doing at least a couple of recitals a year. And that was always classical stuff that they were wanting me to do --European music. They pointed me toward European music really all that time, except for a certain amount of American stuff (Gershwin and stuff like that). But I really didn’t figure out how great American music was until (Laughter) really like after Bloodrock. And then I figured out, “Well, what am I doing here? All these other people are copying blues guys, why am I trying to copy some English guy playing blues when I ought to be listening to Muddy Waters instead?”

JC: (Laughter) Okay. What were your first bands before you joined Bloodrock?

SH: Well, I was in about four different garage bands in Fort Worth, and one of them was called The Rocks, and we had a guitar player -- Bill Ham was the guitar player --

JC: That would be the Bill Ham who’s the brother of Warren Ham?

SH: Yeah, yeah. Bill was a year younger than I am. I might’ve been somewhere around 17 or 18, and he was a year younger. After The Rocks, that’s when Bill and Warren put together a group where they played original music. So anyway, their rapport kinda started when we were -- all three of us were in -- I don’t know if Warren was in high school or junior high -- but that’s when all that started -- was way back then.

JC: Okay. So The Rocks was the group before Bloodrock. How did you get involved in Bloodrock?

SH: There was this other band that was making a lot more money called The Crowd + 1, and I joined them because with The Rocks, we were playing all the “teen-a-go-go” and stuff like that, and an occasional private party. With The Crowd + 1, they were playing at debutante balls and corporate stuff and bringing in some good money. But they were a four-piece group with -- are you familiar with Dean Parks?

JC: I’ve heard the name, yes.

SH: Okay. Well, anyway, you’ll want to look him up because out of all the guys that we’re gonna be talking about, he’s like the -- (Laughter) he’s the guy that is the biggest success in the music business. Dean Parks. He plays guitar on a lot of the Steely Dan stuff, and Stevie Wonder, and all that.

The Crowd + 1 were a four-piece group, and Dean played keyboards. He alternated between keyboards and lead guitar, and so he’s the kind of musician that -- when a guy like that quits, then you have to get two guys to replace that guy. And so they were still a cover band at that point, and so that’s when Lee Pickens -- they hired Lee and then they got me at the same time.

The Crowd + 1

Terry Knight was a staff producer with Capitol, and I think that when he came to hear us play, it was during that summer when Grand Funk was doing all the pop festivals. And so, he was in town because Grand Funk opened the -- it was the Texas International Pop Festival, and they were the opening act for all three days of that festival, and Terry was there for that. And we were playing at this nightclub called Lou Ann’s and we were playing for a fraternity party -- SMU fraternity party -- and so Terry came in and listened to us for -- we were still a cover band. And when Terry came in and once he got there, then we played a full set of our own material for Terry, much to the displeasure of the fraternity people. I really just think that he heard what we were playing, and I think that he just knew that the elements that were there for him to work with and to kind of, because he was not our manager; he was only our producer. So, we signed with Capitol. I think I was 19 because Capitol had to get my parents to sign along with me because I was a minor.

JC: (Laughter) So you were a baby when the first album came out, yeah?

SH: Compared to my age now, yes, I was a baby. And yes, I had all the maturity of that age group at the same time. I was just way, way extremely, by far the youngest guy. And of course the next guy up was a year and a half older. (Laughter) You know, do you remember when you were like 17 --

JC: Yeah.

SH: And the guy that was 18 and a half was like -- that’s an old guy to you.

JC: Right, absolutely.

SH: So I was the junior member of the Bloodrock.

JC: So how did The Crowd + 1 become Bloodrock?

SH: Well, you’re gonna hear about three different stories on that one, but there’s an interview with Terry Knight where I read that he said he came up with that. And so, out of respect for Terry, I’m gonna say Terry came up with that.

JC: What does Bloodrock mean?

SH: What I read was that he had this concept for that very first album cover, which I think was really a dynamite album cover. Look at that, and it holds up today. It doesn’t look dated or anything like that. Terry was a big concept guy, obviously.

First Bloodrock album

JC: In addition to your material, there would be a lot of material written by John Nitzinger. How did he become involved in writing material for the band?

SH: Johnny was a guy who had his own band; he had his own trio, and he was just really writing some dynamite songs. I mean, we just knew they were killer songs. So we recorded some of his songs, and we wrote as much as we had going, and our lead singer, Jim, he wanted us to record as many Nitzinger songs as possible. He wanted us to do lots of those songs. If you look at every single album that the group ever did, then you will notice that, as long as Jim was in the group, we were recording lots of Johnny songs. And then, after Jim left, we didn’t record any of his songs.

JC: That’s right. I did notice that, yes.

SH: Aha! You’ve been looking at the writer’s credits.

JC: Indeed, I have.

SH: (Laughter) If you think about it -- like, you hear a lot of the -- let’s say on the first album, it’s what I call those “riff rock” songs, where they’re all built around a riff. [Listen to a “riff rock” song, “Double Cross” written by John Nitzinger for the first album, by clicking here.] Johnny was writing some great stuff, and so – I think also that it was a really good balance to the kind of stuff that we were writing. He was like a guy writing by himself, and we were collaborating on stuff. And so, if we hadn’t been clever enough to write “D.O.A.” all by our lonesome, without any outside help, that would’ve changed the image of the band, definitely.

JC: The early albums are characteristic of British hard rock groups, such as Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, in that they had a lot of interplay between organ and guitar. Likewise, in Bloodrock, there is a lot of organ/guitar interplay between you and Lee Pickens.

SH: Absolutely. It was fun. It was great.

JC: When we get to Bloodrock 2, the album that contains “D.O.A.,” Jim would no longer be behind the drum stool, and you hired Rick Cobb. Was Rick hired because Jim no longer wanted to drum or did you feel that Jim himself would be better concentrating on vocals and you’d get a new drummer?

The “D.O.A.” era Bloodrock

SH: Well, number one, I always thought Jim Rutledge played some good drums. When we did our reunion concert, I tried to talk him into playing drums on some tunes, and he wouldn’t do that. I think Terry Knight wanted him out front, and he was the lead singer. I mean, I was not against that idea at all, because it’s just -- to this day, it’s still an oddity when you go to hear a group and -- I mean, back then it was like Rare Earth. Or you had the Carpenters where Karen Carpenter, people don’t want the lead singer back there behind the drums for some reason. They don’t like that.

JC: The same case with Don Henley and Phil Collins. They started off as drummers and eventually got behind the microphone instead of the drum set.

SH: Exactly. Don is a great drummer, and Phil Collins is a killer drummer.

JC: I know, Phil’s a killer drummer. It gets overlooked because everyone knows him for singing.

SH: So, I don’t know, eventually it’s like you get promoted whether you want to be or not.

JC: Right, now the song itself, “D.O.A.,” is that really about a plane accident? Or some say it’s about a car crash? To this day, it’s been debated what the song is really referring to.

SH: Okay. Well, you’re gonna hear two different stories on that one as well, and -- I’m watching my words here. Let’s see, it was about a plane crash, and everybody was in agreement about that for about 25 years. And then all of a sudden -- (Laughter) -- this thing came out that it was about a car crash. But I’ll tell you, yeah, it was about a plane crash. [To hear “D.O.A.,” click here.]

JC: Up to this point, there had been songs that were already a little different, but you had never written a song quite like that before. How did this song get started?

SH: Oh, well, here’s my version. We were in practice, and I think maybe Lee was playing those two notes that he -- at the time, he was saying that it was the European siren, but do you know all this about “the devil’s triad,” and all that kind of stuff?

JC: Not much about it, no.

SH: Okay. Well, there’s an interval that was completely banned by the Church, and I guess it was during the Middle Ages. If you go from C and next go to F sharp, that was considered -- when we wrote it, we weren’t thinking, “Oh, this is Satanic” or anything -- but if you look that up in a musical dictionary, you have the scale sets -- one, two, three, four -- four is F. And if you go to F sharp, then you’re in this -- (Laughter) -- demonic -- it was an interval that could get you in lots of trouble if that occurred anywhere in your piece of music. And so Lee was doing that, and so we were just kind of playing around with that then, and I put some chords underneath there, and just what happens is the -- you’ve got this -- you have that interval and -- do you want me to tell you what the intervals, or what’s in there, are?

JC: Yeah, go ahead.

SH: Okay. E to B flat, and then I think it’s C to -- let’s see -- E to the B flat below that. It’s in the key of C. And then the next interval is F to the F -- I’m sorry, C to the F sharp below that. And I think that makes the same weird interval; I don’t know. Really, the first thing it starts at -- it’s really a seventh when it starts, but -- so anyway, these chords that are underneath, it’s as though that was the motif (the siren motif), and then you have these chords that happen underneath there. And that is the -- I don’t know, like, the hook of the song or whatever. And so, then over that, you have the -- so let’s just say I wrote these chords, blah blah blah, and then all the gory lyrics and the --“gory” is not a good word, but -- let’s say the lyrics and the melody, then you have the other guys in the band chiming in there, contributing, and it was really Nick Taylor’s idea -- when it goes, “I remember we were flying along” -- Nick Taylor said, “Well, let’s do this in half-time.” So it’s the very same chord changes, but all of a sudden you’ve gone into -- they’re changing slower, and this big three-part harmony. And better than metal, it has the kind of symphonic deal with the power chords, and that’s just kind of an idea of the C with a ground base -- you have C, blah, blah, and then you have all these crazy chords that are happening above that. And then, I wrote one line in the entire tune, which was the last line. “God in Heaven, teach me how to die.”

JC: Both the lyrics and the music create a very unique package.

SH: The importance of the song depends on who’s listening to it. I guess maybe just the whole thing as a package is what freaked people out, and on top of that the sirens. The FCC banned “D.O.A.” A lot of stations didn’t play that because people were pulling over in their cars because they thought there was an ambulance behind them.

JC: I also read about someone who was about to cover “D.O.A.”, but when 9/11 happened, he didn’t feel comfortable doing the song.

SH: Oh, I understand that. I mean, the song, it’s serious, and there are a lot of things you could say about it. It just depends on your concept of what art should be, and I mean, maybe art shouldn’t be describing that kind of stuff, or maybe it should.

JC: “D.O.A.” is a very atypical song of Bloodrock. You never did this type of song before, nor did it after.

SH: Well, we were called upon to write the sequel to that song, and I couldn’t do it.

JC: “D.O.A.” would be a Top 40 hit, but did you feel it was a double-edged sword? The audience identifies Bloodrock too closely with “D.O.A.,” and if you try to do anything different from “D.O.A.,” the audience won’t accept it.

SH: It was not a problem for the original line-up. It was just sort of something that fit into the set and all that.

JC: I’ve heard the live album, and it goes pretty well with the set.

SH: Yeah, and when you play live, you want a bunch of up-tempo stuff, and so it went just fine in the show. [A snippet of Bloodrock performing “Lucky in The Morning” live can be viewed by clicking here.] But then, later on, after Jim quit the group, it was just something that had to be dealt with. And yeah, it was a challenge.

Tour Photo for Bloodrock

Bloodrock at Legendary Fillmore

JC: During the touring, you would open for Grand Funk a lot, which was obvious since you both were on Capitol and produced by Terry Knight. I also know you opened for Jimi Hendrix as well. Can you talk about those tour days?

SH: Oh. Well, there were a few high-profile things. One, we played the Second Atlanta Pop Festival, Jimi Hendrix was on there, and so were the Allman Brothers. I guess that was our biggest audience because they were saying that when we went on, supposedly there were 350,000 people there. We played a couple of dates in Norman, Oklahoma with Jimi, and then we played the Convention Center in Fort Worth, opened up for Jimi.

And then the other thing is that we played with Grand Funk. Grand Funk did that big tour where they had their own prop jet that was painted “Grand Funk Railroad.” The Maysles Brothers (who did Gimme Shelter), flew with them, and they were gonna do a documentary about Grand Funk. But the tour was 60 days, and included two or three dates up in Canada, and -- but I think out of the 60 days, we played 52 gigs. So that was pretty intense.

JC: Jimi Hendrix would no longer be with us shortly after the tour. Could you talk a little more about playing with Jimi?

SH: Jimi sounded great on those gigs. He was tired of jumping around and doing the histrionics. He was hacked off about the war, and he wanted to get up there and play “Machine Gun” for 15 minutes, about 20 or so, but it was still great.

JC: The late Nick Taylor said once humorously that the most memorable experience of playing in Bloodrock is that he remembers Jimi asking you guys if you had any smack.

SH: (Laughter.) Well, let’s see. No comment. Maybe the roadie, maybe he wanted some smack. But, I mean Jimi was great. I do not think that he committed suicide. I think Jimi was -- everybody that knew him, he just had a big tolerance for it. If somebody was going to do, let’s say, whatever quantity somebody else was going to do, Jimi would take eight of that, whatever it was. But those guys sounded great. Jimi was great. Whatever it took to make Jimi go was okay with me. But, I think that whole deal was an accident as far as his death, and it makes me sad.

JC: I understand that his drummer, Mitch Mitchell, took notice of you. He was thinking of producing the band.

SH: Mitch, yeah, he was kind of experimenting around. I don’t know necessarily if he had picked us out, I just know that he wanted to get some practice producing and, so, I would never say that there was some deal in the works. But we were playing out at The Whiskey, and I think it was a time that we were headlining, and Mitch was out in the --

JC: Is that the Whiskey a Go Go?

SH: Yeah, the Whisky a Go Go. Back in those days, I was not Mr. Network. Mitch was out in the audience there. So I went, and I introduced myself, and we’re just chatting. He was talking about the producing thing, and he said that he was going to do New York City the following week.

I said, “Well, we’re going to the New York City the following week.” And, so, he said, “Why don’t you guys come to the studio?” And I said, “Where?” And he said, “The Electric Lady.” And I said, “Okay.” Eddie Kramer was the engineer. As a matter of fact, a lot of people don’t know about this, very few -- Ed Grundy’s got the 16-track tapes that we did up there at Electric Lady and we’re still trying to decide what to do about that.

JC: Well, I can tell you, I would be interested in hearing it and I know plenty of fans would.

SH: Well, it was cool. We did a couple of tunes that we’d already released, but he was just mainly trying to goof around and learn from Eddie Kramer. I’m sure he was watching Eddie Kramer like a hawk.

JC: No surprise, there, Kramer had engineered Zeppelin and Hendrix.

SH: Yeah, exactly. I learned some stuff from Eddie Kramer watching him and Eddie was great too. It’s kind of like in the old days where in England where they used to wear the lab coats. He didn’t have a lab coat on, but he could have, because he really knew what he was doing.

JC: On Bloodrock 3, a couple things: You have your first sole credit for a song called “Song For A Brother.” How did that one happen?

SH: It’s just a tune that I wrote, and I presented it to the band. Jim liked singing ballads, and the rest of the band liked it and agreed to record it. I don’t know if I ever told anybody this, or anyone from the media, but I couldn’t think of a name for that song because it was so wordy. I could not sum up all the big gigantic hippie ideas that I had in that song, and anyway, I told Terry Knight that I didn’t have a title -- after we did it and all that stuff. I told him that I would call him back and give him the name I came up with. And so, like, a couple of weeks after we got home, I called him and I said, “Well, Terry, I have a name,” and he says -- (Laughter) --“You’re too late. It’s called ‘Song For A Brother.’ ” I said, “Ew, okay.” [To hear “Song For A Brother”, click here.]

JC: Also, this would be Terry Knight’s last produced album. Why was it his last producing job with you?

SH: Well, Jim had a lot of experience as a producer. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I think during our Crowd + 1 days, there was a studio here in Fort Worth called Sound City, and I think he and the legendary T Bone Burnett were the guys that owned that thing, or ran it. Jim wanted to produce the band, and he wasn’t crazy about the sound we were getting.

JC: That’s really surprising because I thought Terry did a great job on those three albums.

SH: I got along just fine with Terry. Terry is one of these -- well, I just have a couple acquaintances in the music business, and their motto is, “It’s not bragging if you can do it.” You’ve heard people say that before, right?

JC: Right.

SH: Well, that’s what Terry was. I mean, he was bigger than life. But everything that he said that he was gonna do, he wound up doing. I think it was also that we were being labeled “Grand Funk’s little brother” as a result of opening for Grand Funk. And Terry produced Grand Funk, so we wanted to get away from it. After we changed producers, we were in Capitol Studio A, where Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole and The Band, people like that, recorded. So I guess that looked attractive at the time.

JC: Now we get to Bloodrock U.S.A. So this is the one that the whole band, I take it, produced, the Bloodrock U.S.A. one?

SH: If that’s what it says, then that’s probably true.

JC: You’ve got the artist of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book to paint that whole cover. One of the most interesting covers I’ve seen. [To hear “Rock’n’Roll Candy Man” from U.S.A. , click here.]

The cover of Bloodrock USA

SH: Right. He was a guy that worked for Capitol. I think he was kind of staff artist for them.

JC: Now, this was the first time that the Ham Brothers come into play. They wrote a song for U.S.A., and I assume that’s Warren himself playing the flute there on the track, "It’s a Sad World.”

SH: I understand why you’re assuming that, but it’s Dean Parks that’s playing flute. Dean plays about 11 different instruments, so we got Dean to come in and do the flute part because he was already out there in L.A.

JC: Now, this would be the last album that had the original lineup. Why did Jim and Lee leave the band?

SH: Jim left the band because he was ready to start his solo career. I think Jim got tired. Actually, it was the whole democracy thing. I think Jim -- he got fed up with all the democracy.

JC: Right. By democracy, you mean a group effort, not a solo effort?

SH: Yes. So, he was ready to go. He was ready to sort of make all the decisions and to engineer his own career path, for better or worse. He did a solo album that coincidentally was on Capitol. Mike Rabon of The Five Americans wrote the tunes. Lee, at the time that Jim quit, said that he didn’t think that it would be Bloodrock without Jim as the lead singer. So, he just didn’t want to -- it was probably a good decision on his part -- but he didn’t want to have to go through all of what we were going to have to go through with a different front man. Lee and I, we get along now better than we ever did. Both of them left then, like, during the same week. That’s when we had to find another singer.

JC: So, it seemed like you had already been playing with the Ham Brothers. It sounds like you would have found Warren then.

SH: Yeah, really, I guess all the guys in the band had a rapport with both of those guys, and especially Ed and I. We had -- when we would be off the road, then we would go jam and all that good stuff. And those two guys, they’d just be in Fort Worth. I mean, to this day, they have just an amazing reputation and people just love to see them perform.

JC: Now, with Jim and Lee gone, this whole band was now going to change into a different band. Were you guys already going that direction or did like Warren lead the new music direction of what it was going into?

SH: I don’t know, if you listen to the tunes, especially on U.S.A., you just hear, you do hear like switching gears and there’s that -- So, there’s a quotation in the fade out to the last song on U.S.A. “Magic Man,” there’s a quotation from the Rite of Spring. When we got home, we were listening to classical stuff and to jazz. I don’t know, I guess the riff rock thing, I think part of it had to do with -- do you know much about stand-up comics?

JC: A little bit, not a lot I can’t say.

SH: Well, most stand-up comics, they don’t even change a word of theirs, from night-to-night. Some of them are improv-based. A lot of the stand-up comics, they don’t even change one single word or one single beat from one night to another because they’re just always going for this optimum.

Grand Funk did the same thing. Consequently, when we would open for Grand Funk, we would play that same 45-minute set. So, we were playing like the same set every night for 52 nights, and I think that when we changed the line-up, we decided to get away, not quite so much of the riff rock stuff. At this point, people were saying that we were a prog rock group like Kansas or something like that. But we were just sort of incorporating, just making it a little bit more complex and trying to just --

Passage-era Bloodrock

JC: I have to admit, when I first heard Passage , I was a little shocked initally because it was very different from what I’d been hearing in the past from Bloodrock. [“Lost Fame” from Passage can be heard by clicking here.] How did your audience that had been from the riff rock era react to the new stuff?

SH: Well, first, it’s kind of an urban myth that we went for a long time without playing “D.O.A.” I’ve seen that in some different things. I think we went for about two months. We announced before interviews, we announced “We’re not going to play “D.O.A.” anymore.” We played this gig I think down in Baton Rouge, and we didn’t play "D.O.A.," and they booed us off the stage. (Laughter.)

Well, we just got a real lesson and it was just the whole idea that whether a concert is artist-driven or whether it’s audience-driven and you can’t -- and also, we were just -- when you think about, Bloodrock was, we just sort of rose in a marketplace where the economy or the Vietnam War, the whole just rock and roll was really, it was almost a seller’s market at the time we came along, and then let’s say -- when the war started winding down, then it wasn’t quite so much that way and what we learned is everybody was still in their early 20s, is that if you’re known for one song, and you get up there and you don’t play that song, people hate you. (Laughter.)

I really think it was about eight weeks, after that, we very gladly started playing that song again because everybody, they kept thinking that we were holding out and then we’d come back for the encore. Then, everybody, “Okay, now they’re going play it.” Anyway, we were just very na├»ve about that.

JC: So you played it, but did the audience -- I know they wanted to hear “D.O.A” -- did they respond to the new material?

SH: Well, if you look at like the mail that’s coming in on my website, there are three categories. The first category is a lot of people who think that the second group was horrible. The second category is the people that are big prog rock people; they like the second group, and they think the first group was like we’re a bunch of Neanderthals. Then you have a small group that likes both of them.

JC: I can imagine there were several categories. But, for every riff rock fan you lost, did you pick up a prog rock fan?

SH: That’s what we were hoping, but it didn’t work out that way.

JC: Do you think you should’ve changed your name or not?

SH: I don’t know. What do you think?

JC: Well, I can think of an example, one of your peers, Iron Butterfly, reformed in the mid-’70s with a different lineup and recorded a different style of music than they did in the ‘60s. A reviewer on the new Iron Butterfly suggested maybe they should’ve changed their name, but on the other hand, he admits, he probably wouldn’t have picked it up if it didn’t have the Iron Butterfly name.

SH: The reviewer is right. Part of what is involved here has to do with how a musician makes money. So, just I guess too, we were getting as much advice one direction as we were the other as far as the name change. So, the minute that you turn loose of that name, you turn loose of that franchise. I think in the long run, I think it was a smart decision because there was a continuity there and just from all this paperwork and trying to get it done, it’s almost a daily job, trying to get paid for stuff that I’ve already done.

So, if you still have, if you’re still using that name, then you can, at least, safely call the record label. You’re not calling on behalf of some guy they never heard.

JC: A few years later, there were bands such as Kansas that were doing similar stuff. Do you also feel that if maybe you had stuck it out a little longer, it might have caught on and then people would have eventually --?

SH: No. Well, that is a good question. I think prog rock is where you have really strong European influence. But, I think our prog rock came across as more of a fad, some kind of European influence now, for the most part.

JC: One other thing I noticed besides the differences of music was that, Rick Cobb, the drummer, starting writing the lyrics for a good deal, at least of the two, that album and Whirlwind Tongues. His lyrics are very political. He also wrote “America, America” on Bloodrock 3 and you can hear a hint of what’s about to come. Now on Passage, we have that song that is praising Daniel Ellsberg.

SH: Actually, Daniel Ellsberg heard that tune and gave us a little sound bite and complimented it. But, I know what you’re saying here, I thought Rick wrote some great lyrics. If you listen to “Magic Man,” anyway when you hear all this stuff where he’s talking about Greek myths and all this stuff, when you hear these lyrics are getting to these sort of esoteric-type stuff, then Rick Cobb’s involved. Rick didn’t write the I love you, woo, woo, woo, you’re my girl, you know I missed you, blah, blah, blah, you broke my heart” type of song.

JC: Although Rick would be writing more lyrics, he’s only on half of Whirlwind Tongues. Why did he leave next?

SH: I guess our style was changing. We just had an idea. It’s just, I don’t know -- I don’t think I even want to answer that question. I will just say that Cobb, he played drums on the biggest hit record we ever had, so God bless him. There’s nothing scandalous about it. It’s just something that happened. But, more power to Rick and God bless Rick.

JC: However, Rick didn’t show up at the reunion concert. The official reason was that he couldn’t make it because he lived far away, but to be honest with you, I felt like, I suspected there was something else at work.

SH: Yeah. Well, (Laughter.) He lives all the way up, kind of up in the Seattle area. It was kind of a low-budget thing to begin with. So, I don’t know -- (Laughter.) I don’t want to get into it.

JC: I understand if you don’t want to get into why he really didn’t.

SH: Actually, first of all, we did, we made several efforts to get Rick on the phone and to contact him. I think that’s important to mention. But because of whatever reason, all that went down, that meant Nick Taylor’s son played drums. So, that was a good thing. But, we tried to call Rick. We really did.

JC: Chris Taylor, Nick Taylor’s son, said on the Bloodrock website, "Even to this day, I’d have Rick back over me playing there."

One song you did write on
Whirlwind Tongues, “Jungle” sounds like it was a mini rock opera.

SH: That’s kind of what it was. I’m still trying to get some people to re-record “Jungle.”

JC: Re-record it? Really?

SH: Yeah.

JC: You have all these assorted characters in the song.

SH: Yeah. Well, if you get a phone call from one of these people, let me know.

JC: (Laughter.)

SH: If one of these kid shows like Sponge Bob wants to do it, let me know. One other comment that I would make is that we had, as far as a misguided idea, that we thought we could be like Frank Zappa, the way that he would have hits, release an album and then have eight different types of songs on there, right?

JC: Right, yeah.

SH: Like, he’d have reggae and then he’d go into jazz. When we changed our bag, we found people don’t like that. Here’s my example. Like "Jungle," that should have been on some other album. I don’t even know whose album that should’ve been on, but it didn’t fit. It’s the last song on the album. The song preceding it is “Lady of Love.” It’s a pop song and it’s about a boy/girl, that kind of change.

So, I think one reason that the public didn’t just go nuts over what we were doing was that we were all over the place as far as our sound. People hate that, I can tell you from experience (Laughter), they don’t like to go from “Jungle" to whatever. They don’t, and so I’m trying to keep that in mind when I’m sequencing, trying to put order of songs together. If you look at the LP, they didn’t even print the lyrics to “Jungle.” They just wanted to forget that as soon as possible, I guess. I think they printed the words to our cover of “Eleanor Rigby.” [To get a taste of the different songs on Whirlwind Tongues, the cover to the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” can be heard here and “Jungle” can be heard here.] When you’re playing, you just take your chances and just to get up there, you’ve got to be confident. And you’d better be ready too, because people are going to heckle you too, so you have to be ready for that too.

JC: Bloodrock would do one more album, Unspoken Words that Capitol didn’t release and then they would break up. You had this brief band with Carmine Appice after Bloodrock.

SH: Yeah. That was a cool thing.

Stevie rehearsing with Carmine

JC: Tell me about that then.

SH: Well, Carmine and I had become acquaintances because Bloodrock toured through the south with Cactus. Carmine wanted to do a fusion band. He had Ray Gomez, who was on guitar, Jeff Berlin, if you’ll look up Jeff, and Jeff is like a monster in the world of bass guitar, if you look him up, and deservedly so. He’s an amazing bass guitar player. He wanted to have a keyboard player and I was looking in that light, and he called me and asked me to come up there and do that band. The band sounded great. We did a demo up at the Record Plant in New York, and we – I just thought it was a really good band. We played a couple of jobs. We opened for the Baker Gurvitz Army. Do you remember them?

JC: Yes, that’s Ginger Baker’s (of Cream) band.

SH: Yeah, Ginger Baker’s deal. One of the things was that the Academy of Music up there -- and then we opened a show for Entwistle Ox, and that went well. There were two shows. Mick Jagger came backstage and gave us his blessing or whatever. But that band wasn’t together very long. Carmine decided, he went to out to L.A., and in fact, he cut an album with some guys from the Electric Flag and just kind of decided to form KGB with them instead of having his own band. Jeff Berlin ended up being a superstar in jazz.

JC: Did you do anything, after the Carmine thing?

SH: Well, I decided to go solo because I noticed that every time I was getting tripped up -- whenever the leader of the band cut out or whatever, so I started playing solo piano and I just got into and started playing jazz. So, I was making my living.

Well, I left out one part. Before all that happened, I did the solo album, Avalanche in Reverse, a lot of those tracks were recorded back then and after the Bloodrock band. I do vocals, Warren sings all the background vocals and Bill plays guitar and Jeff Berlin plays bass on at least a couple of tracks.[To hear a sample of track “Shimera”, click here.]

JC: That sounds good.

SH: Well, some people think it sounds good. I just went back to playing acoustic and I did a few things, bandleader things, playing original music. What I started doing was the journeyman thing and if somebody needed a sideman, luckily I would do that and just, I did that.

Then, I started playing up at Symphony Center and I did that for a couple of years. They had a deal where you would just kind of play out in the lobby, and this is over in Dallas at the Meyerson Symphony Cente, and so I played acoustic. I just really jumped all over trying to get back to playing acoustic piano again.

JC: Describe the feeling of playing at the reunion show. [A clip of the reunion show can be viewed by clicking here.]

SH: I guess the number one thing was that the thing sold out, and we were surprised that people were going so crazy, enjoying it so much. I think not everybody realizes that there’s a franchise with Bloodrock. The whole thing of the franchise and when people are watching this, and when AC/DC gets up there, or just name anybody where they got all the living members that they can get up there, and there’s this whole concept of that and, if you get up there and you’re two members from the original band, then it’s just unbelievable, the difference. And, that is where something that I learned is the most, let’s say somebody that you agreed would be the most inconsequential member of some band, and they go on tour and that person is not there, then it’s amazing how much difference that makes.

So, that is just, I can tell you that every single member of Bloodrock had done, played in venues, just whatever, guest star, whatever, and got kind of a good response, but that’s when I realized that just that whole concept of a franchise that if you get all the guys that are alive up there on stage, people go nuts. They really do go crazy over it, and so that was great.

JC: How does it feel to have fans that remember songs that are over forty years old?

SH: Okay. Here’s my answer there. I don’t understand and I’ve done a bunch of solo, like solo piano where people, where I always get a really good reaction. I guess, first of all, that there is like a sense memory, and I guess the obvious explanation is that it connects. When you put on some music, you don’t normally just put on something where it’s the most horrible part of your whole life. You’ll put something on where you had hope, or whatever, or things were going well. So, I guess that’s the common answer.

But, my answer to this is that I had no earthly idea why it is that. All you’re doing is you’re sending these sound waves out that no one can even see, and they enter your system through your ears and they activate part of your -- it is a complete mystery. Like, I will put on music, and it will make me ecstatic, and I have no idea why. If you know what that is, then I’m all ears.

JC: Well, it’s hard. I mean, I think if there was a formula for it, every musician would have it in their hand and then have a hit song, or a song that would drive people nutty.

SH: Exactly. In a way, if you knew, and this is another issue, but if you knew how to manipulate people that way -- I guess maybe that’s what military marches are about, national anthems, if you really knew how to manipulate people through music, then that would be scary. You could rule the world if you knew exactly what sequence of notes were required, so it’s -- maybe it’s good that it’s a mystery.

JC: So any more sequences of notes we can expect from Stevie?

SH: Right now, I have two albums of music that I’m going to try to record. If I make it that long, then I’ll put up two more albums because I just bought a little tiny digital recorder. So, the quality’s going to be really good because it won’t be archival stuff, it will be all digital. If I make it that long, then I’ve got about 20 songs left before I start. And if I make it longer than then, I’ll write some new stuff.

Stevie Hill today