Tyler Tincknell (TT) – Interviewer
Eric Olson (EO) – Participant, lead vocalist and songwriter for the Next Five.
TT: How did you first get involved in music? Was the Next Five your first band?
EO: Music was always around me when I was growing up, my mother played the piano and when my parents had party’s they would all stand around the piano and sing, there was always a radio playing somewhere and music just sank into me as if it where a part of life. I always sang songs when I was a kid, changing lyrics intentionally or unintentionally, but saying to myself “well that fits too”. The first time I was with a band was in my garage with some kids from the neighborhood, by the time I was 13 I already knew I wanted to sing in band and hang out with the cool kids. I joined my first organized band when I turned 15, “The Variations” they were playing social centers and park pavilions for $20 a gig. The first gig I did was in early 1965 at View Street School social center on the lower south side of Milwaukee, I made $5 to play 2 sets. By the spring of ’66 I had a vision of what kind of band I wanted to be in. I started putting a band together and remembered a guitar player from Brookfield, Wisc. (Steve Thomas) who played in a band with a mutual friend and I got in touch with him and told him what I wanted to do. After our meeting he said “Ok, I listened to what you would like to do, now come and hear my 4 piece band that I already have, and we’re looking for a singer”. I did, and that was the beginning of the “Next Five”.
TT: Garage bands began popping up all over the country in the mid-1960s for various reasons. What motivated you to be a part of the Next Five?
EO: My motivation to join the 4 piece band Steve already had was we were on the same page as to what we wanted to do, there was absolutely no question in my mind that this was the band I was looking for and they felt the same way about me joining them. Of coarse I had to wrestle our drummer (Tom “Ashbolt” Stewart) out in Steve’s back yard to prove my worthiness. We were an extremely tight group of guy’s back in the early day’s, not just musically but we were all close friends instantly. I spent the summer of ’66 practically living at Steve’s in Brookfield because I was from the south side of Milwaukee and that was a little distance away. I’ve always believed because we were so young we developed and grew together as one, and that was the magic of the “Next Five”.
TT: Wisconsin is not the first state people looked to as a “hot-bed” for garage music, but it actually produced some noteworthy groups like the Blues Boys, the Delcords, and, of course, the Next Five. What was the music scene like and did any local bands influence the Next Five’s style?
EO: There were a lot of bands locally just on the south side of Milwaukee alone, before I was even in a band I saw the “Savoy’s”, “El Demerons”, “Road Runners” and the “Legends” who I never met or saw but they had an album out called “Run To The Movies” with songs like “Lariat” and “Say Mama”, they were the generation before me and pre- Beatles and had a big influence on me. The first live act I ever saw was not a rock band, it was Concertina Millie at Mitchell Park in the very early 60’s, the energy level of that act blew me away, I was probably 11 years old at the time. When I joined the “Next Five” the influences had changed due to the British invasion.
TT: Speaking of the British Invasion, which band would you say was the Next Five’s main influence?
EO: I don’t think there was any one British band that influenced us, everyone in the band had their own personal influences, we were always trying to stay current and looked for songs that fit the band and had lots of vocals. Everybody was influenced by the Stone’s and Beatles, but we would only do one song by any given artist at a time. In those day’s we only did two 45 minute shows at every gig, 12 songs a set, 24 songs a night, always new songs coming in and old songs going out, most songs would last a month or maybe two. There were some songs that were album cuts and we could hang on to those a little longer. The DJ’S at WOKY and WRIT would give us a heads up on what was coming out so we could get a jump on the new stuff.
TT: What type of venues did the band perform at? What were some of the songs that would usually be featured?
EO: We played at high schools, proms, post proms, regular dances, colleges, teen centers, fairs and festivals, radio station events and a lot of CYO dances. Our manager Con Merten kept us booked solidly for three years straight. I remember going to children’s hospitals during Christmas to sing Christmas songs to kids. We did tv shows in Milwaukee, Chicago, Ohio. We did concerts with groups like the Rascals, Herman’s Hermits, shows with groups like Tommy James and the Shondells, the Royal Guardsmen, American Breed, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Moby Grape and many shows with Chicago bands like the New Colony Six, Shadows of Night and the Cryin’ Shames. In 1968 the first Milwaukee Summerfest was born and was produced by our manager (Con Merten) and Dee Robb from Wisconsin’s most successful rock band The Robbs, who Con also managed, that was a very memorable event. We would always do our own songs of coarse, but throughout the years we did songs like “Conquistador” Procol Harum, “Kids Are Alright” Who, “Hey Grandma” Moby Grape, “Rock and Roll Woman” Buffalo Springfield, “Black is Black” Los Bravos, “Saint Stephen” Grateful Dead, “Dear Mr. Fantasy” Kooper- Bloomfield and all the current hits at the time by groups like The Rascals, Hollies, Bee Gees, and even more poppy stuff by The Turtles and Lovin Spoonful.
TT: Talking with different artists, I find some tend to believe their greatest strength was found in their live performances. Would you say that was true about your band?
EO: Recording was always fun, but on live gigs you had an audience that fed you with energy. Kids would be jammed up in front of the stage and would rock out with the band and there is nothing that could compare to that. Doing TV shows was a sterile and technical environment where people just made sure your hair was in place, but by the end of a live gig your hair would be soaking wet and the sweat would be dripping down your face and you would be hyped up with adrenaline. I would have to agree with the other artists that there is nothing like live performances.
TT: I take it from the band’s discography, you were the main songwriter. What went into your composing process and was it a relatively easy task?
EO: Our first recording was “Little Black Egg”, a friend of the band and local DJ Paul Christy from WOKY Milw. brought the song to one of our rehearsals and ask if we would consider recording it. It was first done by a Florida group called The Nightcrawlers in 1965 who had some success with it regionally in the south. Paul asked if we could write a B-side for it and we said sure, even though none of us had ever written a song before. I can’t remember if there were any other submissions by members of the band but we ended up doing a song I brought to rehearsal called “He Stole My Love”, I had the guitar line, chords, lyrics and melody and it was quite a dark song. I think I made up the story line from an old tv show or movie I saw. Being it was the first song I ever wrote I really just guessed at how to go about it. Paul said it was good enough for the B-side but suggested that the next time I write a song, I might want to think a little more commercial. “He Stole My Love” can be found on vinyl compilation albums Mindrocker Vol.3 1981 Germany, and Mindrocker The Complete Series Vol. 1-13 Anthology of 60 US Punk Garage Psych 1986 Germany, Wisconsin Rocks Volume 7, and numerous bootleg albums that come and go on the internet.
The next song we recorded was “Mama Said”, a Shirelles song from 1961, Paul Christy wanted us to do “Romeo And Juliet” a song done by the Reflections in 1964. We decided on “Mama Said” because it felt right for us. Once again we needed a B-side and it wasn’t until the night before the recording session did I attempt to come up with something. This time I used a piano and immediately came up with the line for “Talk To Me Girl”, I found the chord structure, melody, and most of the lyrics, I finished the lyrics the next day driving to the session. After recording “Mama Said” we had 45 minutes to record “Talk To Me Girl”, nobody in the band had any idea of how the song went, but that was the magic of that song. I played the piano and Mark played the Hammond organ and everyone just played the first thing that came to their minds, there was no time to sit back and evaluate what we were doing, that was the fastest song recorded of any song I’ve written to date, and the spontaneity of it is why the song turned out the way it did. If we had time to try to make it better, it probably wouldn’t have sounded like that. Before we signed with Jubilee Records we recorded in different studios, and “What’s That Melody” a song I wrote and we recorded in Appleton Wisc. (I think) was used for the flip side of “Sunny Sunny Feeling” I don’t remember to much about that session but the song was never one of my favorites, “Sunny Sunny Feeling” was recorded in Chicago at Chess Studio’s. There was never one method to the way we did the original recordings, but if we had to pick one I’m sure it would be the way we did “Talk To Me Girl”.
TT: I noticed all of your songs were featured on the B-side. Was there a reason for this or was it a coincidence?
EO: Every time I’ve written a song I’ve tried to write an A-side, that wasn’t easy back then when you consider the competition of the day. I do remember when Paul Christy got the first DJ copies of “Mama Said” and “Talk To Me Girl”, he invited us over to his house to hear them. He first played “Mama Said” and it was pretty much how we remembered it because we had rehearsed it before we recorded it, and we played it live on the gigs after that. Nobody knew how “Talk To Me Girl” was going to sound because we had forgotten how it even went, we never did it after we recorded it. After he played it he said “this is pretty close to an A-side” and one night while doing a late show he called me and said he was going to play it on the radio even though he wasn’t suppose to because of the stations policy of just playing the top 40 hits. He played it at about 1:00 am in the morning and it sounded even better on the radio. That was probably the closest I got to an A-side in those day’s.
TT: How would you describe the Next Five’s sound? How would you say the group’s sound matured over time?
EO: Like most teenage bands back then we did cover material in the beginning, and we did that better than most bands because that’s what got us off the ground and got our manager (Con Merten) and our producer (Paul Christy) interested in us. We not only developed musically but also our presentation matured very quickly because of constant live performances. But for me anyway, the essence of the “Next Five” came out on the recording of “Talk To Me Girl”, that was the real us, un-scrutinized, spontaneous, and no input from outside sources.
TT: I noticed you shared the bill with some very successful acts. What was your most memorable gig?
EO: I would have to say that very early on everyone in the band liked the Rascals, their still one of my favorite 60’s groups. So when Con Merten (our manager) informed us we would be opening up for them at the Milwaukee Auditorium along with the Robb’s who were also managed by Con, that was a big step forward for us. I can remember standing just feet away from drummer Dino Danelli while he was doing the show, the guy was incredible, the whole band was incredible. That has always stuck in my mind as one of the most memorable gigs we did with a major act.
TT: Although you hinted at it, could you elaborate further on how the Next Five secured a record deal?
EO: Our first record deal was with Destination USA Records out of Chicago, that was for “Little Black Egg” and “He Stole My Love”. They always wanted to meet someone in the band to make sure there was a band and not just a recording. I remember driving to Chicago with Paul Christy to have lunch with Bobby Monaco who worked with a lot of Chicago bands at that time and later discovered Rufus with Chaka Khan. Ironically, ten years later in the late 70’s I ran into him at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood where he was the guest speaker at the song writers showcase I was attending, we spoke for a few minutes and I never saw him after that. Just before we signed our second deal with Wand Records out of New York for “Mama Said” and “Talk To Me Girl” they send a representative to Milwaukee to meet the whole band, unfortunately I cannot remember his name. We went downtown to a hotel where he was staying and actually had to sing for him in his room. We just brought a guitar and did the vocals for “Mama Said”, afterword he was convinced we were a band and we got the deal. Our third record deal was with Jubilee Records also out of New York for “Sunny Sunny Feeling” and “What’s That Melody” [released as by the Toy Factory], the representative was Steve Wax who was the national promotion rep. for Jubilee. We never did meet with him because he already knew we were an established band. However, I did talk to him many times on the phone regarding release date and distribution. As far as making the deals, the band never had much input, Paul took care of all the deal making that went on with all three of the record company’s we were signed to. Paul always seemed to do one shot deals in case one of the songs were to really take off, then he would be able to make a new and better deal. Back then all this information was hush, hush, we weren’t suppose to talk about any of this stuff, being all this happened a half century ago I think it’s ok now to discuss it.
TT: Were the band’s vocal harmonies well-rehearsed? I was intrigued with how well they flow with the lead vocals on “Little Black Egg”.
EO: Most of the time we would just have a guitar or use the organ and sing at rehearsals, it went without saying that everyone would know their musical parts. We were a vocal band on most of the material, some of the songs had maybe just a few other vocal parts, but if the vocals were tight the band was tight. After awhile, everyone seemed to know what part they would be singing.
TT: The Wand single sounds much more classical than most garage bands of the day. Did the Left Banke influence the band at all or was “Talk to Me Girl” a part of the Next Five’s own experimentation?
EO: The Left Banke was an excellent band, great harmonies, but we weren’t thinking of any other bands when we recorded “Talk To Me Girl”. Basically we weren’t thinking much of anything other than getting the song recorded in that 45 minutes left in the session. But again, that was the magic of that song, no time to think, just do. Spontaneity was the trick, I learned whatever you come up with first, it’s usually the best thing. Since then, I’ve found that you can try to keep finding different parts for a song and you end up going back to your first thought.
TT: You mentioned “Talk to Me Girl” is the best representation of the group’s sound. Where you guys given more studio freedom, and, if so, why was this the case?
EO: Back in the 60’s most producers didn’t really care what went on the B-side, the money was on the A-side. Being every Vinyl 45 had to have a B-side, most bands were just asked to put something together. Even on vinyl albums where there were usually 12 songs there was a lot of filler stuff, one or two songs would get featured and the rest barely got noticed. There were some exceptions to that rule on singles and albums, but not many. The B-sides were a place the bands could express themselves without much scrutiny from the record company or the producer, the only thing you needed to watch out for is that it was socially acceptable and none offensive.
TT: For all three singles, the Next Five also had three different record labels. Did this affect the group in any way or was that just a part of the business to you?
EO: All the record deals were pretty much just part of the business for us, we left everything up to Paul Christy and we trusted his decisions. Of coarse every band wanted to be signed to a major national label but that didn’t always happen. We were happy to be signed with Destination USA records out of Chicago for our first deal, it was a strong regional label that kick started many bands from the Midwest. From that, Paul was able to put together deals with Wand and Jubilee Records out of New York where at that time the music industry was centered.
TT: Did the records sell well? Which single was the most commercially successful?
EO: We were getting a good amount of airplay in Milwaukee from WOKY and WRIT and knew we were also getting it from smaller stations around the Midwest, and we found them on Jukeboxes. I don’t know exactly how many records were sold, we were never given that information. I did get royalties for writing the B-sides very early on, however I never received any for the “Mindrocker or the Pebbles albums. I would have to say “Mama Said” was our most successful record at the time. but it was the compilation albums that introduced “Talk To Me Girl” and “He Stole My Love” back in the 80’s.
TT: Did the band record any songs which have not been released?
EO: Yes, I have 3 acetates of 2 songs I wrote and our version of “Not Fade Away” . I haven’t heard those for a number of years now but I remember the quality was pretty bad, it was almost 50 years ago those acetates were made.
TT: Did the band have a chance to perform while in New York or in any other state for that matter?
EO: The whole band went down to Virginia to play some gigs because Paul our producer had moved down there, while Con our manager decided to move to New York to open an office with Denny Randell who was a song writer, producer and had co-written some of the early Four Seasons hits. I went to New York in Jan. ’69 to meet with them, the bottom line was the band would have to move to New York. While contemplating weather to relocate or not, Con and Denny had a falling out and Con moved to Los Angeles.
TT: Is it possible that the unreleased songs will be avaliable either online or on a compilation album?
EO: Probably not, the quality of those acetates are pretty bad and there’s not much that could be done to make them any better. Having said that, I just realized I was never in possession of the 8 track master tapes that were left at these studio’s, and neither was Paul Christy. I remember sometime in ’68 Paul Christy called us and asked if we would go to Chicago and record at a new studio that just went 8 track and they needed a band to get the bugs out of their new system, I didn’t have anything new written so we decided to record our version of “Not Fade Away” a song written by Buddy Holly. All I can remember is a guy named Cody who was the engineer and we talked on the phone and set up the time for the session. Ok, I just googled Stereo-Sonic Recording Corp. Cody and found out his name was Ed Cody, and there were some things about him. Numero Group profile – tribunedigital-chicagotribune If the 8 track master of “Not Fade Away” still exists it would now be with the Numero Group according to this 2 page article from the Chicago Tribune 2013, or in a storage locker. Apparently Cody kept acetates and master tapes of his sessions at Stereo-Sonic, ours would have been one of the first on their new 8 track machine. Wow, I never knew any of this or even thought of trying to find out until you asked me. I can’t remember where we recorded the other 2 songs I wrote “People” and “Sunday Dreamin” which are on the other acetate that has no label, I do know it was in Jan. or Feb. of ’69 and also done in Chicago. Earlier this year I talked to a record collector in Milw. who say’s he has an identical acetate of “People” and “Sunday Dreamin” which baffles me because I can remember there was only one made the day of our session. If either of those 8 track masters could be retrieved, then they could be digitized and made to sound like they could never have sounded back then.
TT: So was the falling out what lead to the Next Five’s disbandment? Did the band try to go on without them?
EO: Well the band lasted for 3+ years which was actually a pretty good amount of time for young teenage bands of the time. About half way through that time our drummer Tom Stewart left the band due to reasons I don’t remember, other then some misunderstandings with one or two of the other guy’s. Tom played the drums on “Little Black Egg” “He Stole My Love” “Mama Said” and “Talk To Me Girl”. That was when John Kruck joined for the duration of the band. John Played drums on “Sunny Sunny Feeling” “Whats That Melody” and all the songs on the acetates. Come the spring of ’69, Con our manager was settled in New York, Paul our producer was in Virginia and Steve Thomas our guitar player was heavily into med school. Gordy Wayne Olski the bass player and I were trying to keep the whole thing together while waiting for the release of “Sunny Sunny Feeling”. We held onto the bands farm house as long as we could but the money started to disappear. I can remember calling Steve Wax at Jubilee Records practically every day. When the record was finally released we found there was very little distribution and the radio stations only played it for a short time. Gordy and I jumped into another band and went to Charleston South Carolina to play at the Army Navy Club where we were introduced to playing 6 nights a week and 6 sets a night. After 3 weeks or so I left that band, jumped on an airplane and went back to Milwaukee where the realization of the demise of the Next Five became a reality.
TT: Do you feel the band accomplished everything it could and just ran its course or was there unfinished business? As a follow-up to that, was a studio album a possibility for the group?
EO: I think anybody in any band always feels that there was unfinished business in the end. Most bands didn’t get the opportunity of having someone like Con Merten for a manager and Paul Christy as a producer to guide them in the right direction. And yes, we kept bugging Paul about doing an album and he kept bugging us to keep writing.
TT: What did the other band members do after the Next Five that you know of? Do you keep in contact with any of them?
EO: After the band broke up Steve Thomas (guitar) went on to Med school and retired a few years ago, he now travels around the world, mostly to Caribbean and resides in Texas when he’s back in the states. I’ve had emails with him periodically just to reminisce about the old day’s and to catch up on what we’ve been up to. Gordy Wayne Olski (bass) went on to play in numerous bands and is still playing and resides in Wisconsin. I last talked to him a few years ago. Tom “Ashbolt” Stewart “1st drummer” also went on playing in different bands and he too is still playing and resides in Oregon. I have communication with him on Facebook. John Kruck (2nd drummer) went on to be a psychologist and is retired and living in Wisconsin. I talked to him a few years back.
Some years ago I was heart broken to hear from the cousin of Mark “Hastings” Buscaglia (keyboards), he had passed away back in 2005. The last time I saw Mark was in the late 70’s out here in Los Angeles where he went from being a keyboard player to playing drums in a progressive rock band.
The roster would not be complete without our road manager Randy “Spider” Schneider, who was as much a part of the band as the members. He drove the truck, hauled the Hammond organ and those Eros amps and set up all the gear to precision, not to mention the fact he was our protector. He is doing well and living in Wisconsin. I’ve been living in Los Angeles since 1977, I moved out here to go to work for the Robb’s at Cherokee Recording Studio’s in Hollywood where Con Merten was the General Manager. I’ve been playing with bands since I left Cherokee in 1980, and still playing now with a great bunch of guy’s around L.A.
TT: I have a copy of the Springdale ’73 album. Could you provide some background on the project and how it was released years later?
EO: Springdale was the name of the apartment complex in Waukesha Wisconsin where I was living back in 1973, and for no reason other then place and time I named that project “Springdale’73”. There was a time, 1972 when there was no such thing as affordable home recording. Springdale ’73 is an example of early affordable home recording using the newest technology of the time, the Teac 3340s and the SR-55 drum machine. For example, the Beatles recorded Sgt. Peppers on a Studer 4 track 1 inch tape machine, nearly the price of a house at the time. The Teac 3340s was a 4 track quarter inch tape machine, perhaps the price of a good used car. Every teenage band in the 60’s knew how hard it was to get a song recorded. You needed an established band, a producer, a manager, a recording studio and engineer, a good song, and lots of money, just to get 7 or 8 parts recorded together into a song. There was an actual turning point from the 60’s to now, and that was in 1973 when the Teac 3340S entered the commercial market. At an affordable price, the Teac gave you the same multi-track capabilities as those four track studios of the 60’s. Another new technology of the time was the Univox SR55 drum machine. Together, the Teac and drum machine started the home recording revolution – the complete self containment for songwriters of which is the norm today. In a nutshell, “Springdale ’73” isn’t about the songs anymore as much as it’s about one of the earliest (maybe the earliest) example of home recording using the Teac 3340s to it’s fullest extent.
TT: From what I read, you recorded 30 songs during this time. Will there a “Volume 2” to Springdale in the future?
EO: There were actually more like 40 songs that were recorded in a very short period of time back in ’73 and into ’74 using the electric drummer, but there isn’t any reason to release any more of those dated songs because it’s more about the technology and the technique of early home recording. At the time it was about making demo’s, now it’s simply about the tech part. I stopped using the electric drummer sometime in ’75 but used the Teac well into the 90’s. In 1980 I started writing for my band that was new wave. I set up a drum set in my house and I played drums on my recordings. Recently my publisher released 12 songs of mine on YouTube, one of those songs was from my 1980 recordings where it’s just drums, guitar and vocals, that was the way I would present the feel of the songs to the band.
TT: Do you recall any bands you recorded?
EO: I recorded at Cherokee with my band in 1980, I was never a studio musician there, most of their clients were the heavy’s, Rod Stewart, Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, Journey, Tom Petty, Cars, with producers like George Martin, Tom Dowd, and Roy Thomas Baker. I did do some 2nd engineering and worked in different capacities on sessions with War, Rod Stewart, Bill Quateman and others. My favorite was doing a 3 day session with the Beach Boys and their wives who were putting vocals on old Beach Boy reject songs just for the fun of it. It was like a family party they were having and they were all there including their kids, Mike Love was the only one who wasn’t there. When I started working at Cherokee they were in the middle of building studio 2 so I helped with that and then a remodel of studio 3. I can only think of 2 times I actually recorded with a client and that was clapping with Burton Cummings (Guess Who) on one of his songs and singing some back up thing with Livingston Taylor, James Taylor’s brother.
TT: When did you first notice the Next Five’s songs were being featured on compilation albums as notable as Pebbles and Mindrocker? Where you surprised the group was receiving that much coverage?
EO: I was living in Burbank in ’81 when a friend called and said another mutual friend in Chicago had just bought an album called Pebbles Vol 10 and “Talk To Me Girl” was first cut side A. I had another friend that was coming over to my house that day and I asked him if he could stop at Tower Records on Sunset to see if it was being sold there, well it was and he bought 2 of the albums and kept one, I still have the other one. That told me it was probably being sold in New York as well, I had no idea it was being sold all over the world. I didn’t know about the Mindrocker album with “He Stole My Love” on it for years, and I didn’t know the scope of the whole thing until the internet. In the last few years I found 5 of our recordings on 11 different comp albums, some legal and some bootlegged. Yes, it was a surprise. I did think we were long forgotten.
TT: Has anyone ever approached you with releasing a retrospective album that would compile all the Next Five’s recordings?
EO: No I haven’t heard from any record company about doing that, sounds like fun though. A lot of people don’t know this but you have to bake the tapes first or dehydrate them. I think I baked the Springdale ’73 tapes at 135 degrees for about or 4 hours. There are different ways of doing it and it takes the stickiness out of the old tape.
Closing statement by Eric Olson:
Tyler, on behalf of the Next Five and everyone affiliated with it, I would like to thank you, your magazine and your readers for taking interest in our experiences of 50 years ago, it was truly a magical time for us. We all went on to play in many other successful bands throughout the years and most of us are still at it today, but there was nothing like being a teenager in the 60’s and having those experiences. As of today, which is 8/12/16, I’m enjoying playing in a band for the last 2 years in Los Angeles with people who have had similar experiences, W. Michael Lewis on keyboards has been with groups such as Spirit, Mark Lindsay, Quicksilver Messenger Service and was on the Disco charts for 4 years, Terry Rangno on bass who had been a child actor and has been with the We Five for over 43 years, Glenn Stacey on sax and Tim Shea on drums, both have been pro musicians in Los Angeles for decades. We have a lot of fun taking long breaks at rehearsals and sitting around telling stories of days gone by.
Eric Robert Olson