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 naïve 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


mimetics said...

Excellnet Jeff --- just hoping Stevie and Lee get together and make some music for the Fans again!

JACkory said...

Awesome interview. It's always good to see something about Bloodrock turn up on the Internet. Thanks.

lllvis said...

I first heard Bloodrock at the reunion. What a show! Between the band being tight and the audience being made for a once in a lifetime experience!

Jethrobill said...

Jeff, thanks for the terrific interview with a great musician. I bought the first Bloodrock album in 1970 and they became one of my favorite bands, in large part due to the terrific interplay between Stevie and Lee Pickens. Best of luck to him!