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Great Scott McCarl interview


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Don't think I've seen this one anywhere before. Enjoy:

Scott McCarl | Interview | Raspberries

By Klemen Breznikar

It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine
March 2, 2022

Scott McCarl only appeared on a single Raspberries album (their 1974 swansong, ‘Starting Over’) but the bassist proved his worth, co-writing five of the album’s tracks.

In the aftermath of the Raspberries, McCarl pursued other career paths and only sporadically returned to songwriting. That’s why it took over two decades for his debut solo album to appear. Titled after his best-known Raspberries composition, ‘Play On’ was released in 1998 and showed that McCarl’s knack for Beatlesque power pop hadn’t dimmed in the slightest. This new compilation includes choice cuts from the original ‘Play On’ as well as additional songs from McCarl’s discography. Original compositions are joined by a cover of Gerry & The Pacemakers ‘Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying’. Backing musicians include the Rubinoos, Hilly Michaels, and Lux Interior’s brother, Michael Purkhiser. Liberation Hall also has a vinyl release of this compilation planned for later this year.

It’s really nice to have you. How did you first get interested in music and what do you recall from the early days listening to music?

Scott McCarl: I listened to AM radio constantly from about age 11 onward. My parents had a couple of Kingston Trio albums, which gave me a love of folk music that I still have. Even better, there were all those wonderful innocent hits of 1962 and ’63, great easygoing stuff, right before the Beatles arrived. People tend to put that period’s music down but I loved it. And then, all of a sudden, everything got so much more exciting and urgent. I can still recall where I was when I first heard ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. The Beatles had the songs, hair, accents, clothes — just this joy about them that took everything to a whole other level. I excitedly began to learn to play and sing their songs, teaching myself, slow going but very fun and interesting to do. I’m gonna be a musician like them! Though I was not in a proper band until years later.

Were Yellow Hair your very first band?

Yes, right after high school. We were a four-piece group — two guitars, bass, and drums. That’s what the Beatles had! We made a record, probably the first complete song I had written, called ‘Somewhere’. It’s such a magical time being in your first band. I’m still best friends with the drummer. And for my new record, ‘Play On’, for Liberation Hall, I have re-recorded a sweet song that Yellow Hair demoed back in 1970, written by the only member that has passed away, Ted Paxson. It’s called ‘Like Nobody Can’ and I did it in his memory.

You recorded two singles with this band. What do you recall from the studio time?

‘Somewhere’ was paid for indirectly by my granddad, who had given me $450 for college. Thanks, Grandpa! Yellow Hair chose a tiny studio rather than the big formal one in town that everybody went to, and as such I don’t think we were very nervous. We knew we were good and that the songs were good. It turned out perfect. The studio owner thought so, too, and asked to manage us. A little later, he travelled to New York City to get us a real record deal. He negotiated with Bell Records for one song, to begin with. They insisted we record either ‘I’m Into Something Good’, which Herman’s Hermits had already done, or a remake of ‘I Wanna Be Free’, the Monkees song, which would now have new lyrics written just for us by the song’s original writers, Boyce & Hart. We chose ‘I Wanna Be Free’. This time it had to be in that big studio I mentioned — big budget with a real producer! And what we got for our efforts was a crappy recording, with awful strings & horns, no life and no soul. Oh well. So if you want to know what Yellow Hair was really like, listen to ‘Somewhere’, it’s on YouTube. 

There is a picture with it on YouTube, among the coolest ones of the band ever taken, shot under an old bridge near the studio on the day we recorded ‘Somewhere’.

Did you get any radio play? Were you working on an album?

In the town where the band formed, St. Joseph, Missouri, we got to #6 on the local chart. We were thrilled! Top Ten on the same chart with the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’! No album, just three or four songs we demoed. After the flawed Bell Records’ ‘I Wanna Be Free’ single, that deal was over, too.

Then you joined Wits End or did I miss something?

No, that’s right. Yellow Hair lasted about 18 months, it just turned kind of sour and weary, like bands will do. We didn’t know how to be a band — it can be harder than it sounds. I still have fabulous memories of that period, but it was time to go. Plus, in that era, you had to do these long jams, long drum and guitar solos, gigs in the parks with dancing hippies, which I never quite liked. Wits End was from Virginia Beach, halfway across America from where I had grown up. It seemed like a smart way to make a new start. Once again, we were a four-piece guitar band. Very nice guys and no jamming! A clean-cut lounge group. I really gained stage experience from my time with them, and we played club after club, all over the East Coast, and had a lot of good times. But I knew in my heart that I should reach higher, toward what I was truly after. So Wits End lasted about 18 months as well, no recording sessions or anything.

How did you join Raspberries and what are some of the strongest memories from recording ‘Starting Over’?

Big questions there — I’ll try not to make this a super-long answer, though I easily could! While still in Wits End, one day a girl I knew handed me a copy of this 45 record which flipped her out — ‘Go All The Way’ by Raspberries. It took my breath away, just like ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ had done eight years before. It had everything a song could ever need, it was a three-minute thrill ride. So, after leaving Wits End, I made a simple guitar-and-vocal demo of a few of the songs I’d been writing, and sent it off to Eric Carmen. Looking back, I suppose I sent them partially for encouragement, and also just to make a connection with a band that was so great. Three months passed with no reply, I’d kind of given up, and then out of the blue Eric calls me one night. Turns out he was knocked out by my songs — ‘Don’t Make Me Sad’, in particular — and he had just been busy over the last several months being a Pop Star. He advised me to keep writing and that we should stay in touch. Along with the tape I had sent to Eric, I had written this: “P.S., if your bass player ever quits, call me”. Sure enough, later that year, major friction developed between their bass player and Eric. I was called in to audition, nothing formal, just hanging out together for a night, driving around and singing songs together. I was in!

My memories of recording ‘Starting Over’ are, indeed, very strong. I can still see it all like it was yesterday. I vividly recall recording the backing tracks for each song, then fleshing them out with overdubs. Monday to Friday, noon to six for four weeks until the LP was done. It was cool to me that no one, band or producer, ever said they did not like something I was playing on bass, “oh no, you gotta change that.” I just played what I felt. Forty-eight years later, two things REALLY stand out: Meeting John Lennon, who was there to record the Nilsson album ‘Pussy Cats’ — what a thrill! I liked him instantly, he was very sure of himself on the surface, but his eyes told another story. He just put up a “tough-ish” front. I’m so grateful that happened — I never dreamed I’d meet and hang out for a bit with a Beatle. And second, I’ll go with my vocal day. It was a perfect May morning, and I chose to walk the 20 long blocks from the hotel to the studio that day. I wanted to soak up the morning in New York City. I got there 90 minutes early and sat at the piano doing vocal warm ups. It was my day, I was all alone there. I gave my songs all I had. I recall sitting down with a bit of a headache after singing ‘Play On’, but what a wonderful headache.

You wrote five songs, which is pretty outstanding for a new member…. Did you specifically work on the songs for the band?

Five songs is a lot, isn’t it? I’m very proud of that. I’ll go through them quickly for you. ‘Play On’ is my favorite, Eric and I wrote that from my original idea. Same thing for ‘Cry’. We really had good luck as songwriting partners; we’d go to McDonalds and get a Coke, watch people for a bit, then go back to Eric’s place to write. ‘I Can Hardly Believe You’re Mine’ was his idea, and is again, a joint effort between us. ‘Hands On You’ was just Wally and I writing a silly song one evening on the sofa, which the producer ended up really liking and on the album it went! ‘Rose Coloured Glasses’ is all me, both the writing and the song’s subject. What the heck was I doing writing about myself? I’ll never know, but I remember I wrote it on the band’s Wurlitzer electric piano one day, in Wally’s basement. Written for the album, or not? I can’t really say, I think I was just writing — and maybe hoping?

It took two decades for you to enter the studio again and record your solo album, ‘Play On’ (1998), which is truly a wonderful release. What was your creative process for it and where did you record it?

Thanks, I’m really glad you liked it. First came ‘Nobody Knows’, a remake of a Raspberries song from before I got there. Eric had always said that I would have sung it well. After that session, in Ohio, I was itching to do more. So I called up my dear friend, the Yellow Hair drummer, and asked him to please revive a small pop label called Titan Records that he had run from 1975-1985, so that I could release my new music . I didn’t want to be on some big, faceless label, pushing me around and all that. Luckily, Tom agreed and we did the project together. Fun times! We were able to fly to England for the mastering and artwork, we took the train to Liverpool, and had a very memorable trip. I recorded in Ohio again, as well as in San Jose and Berkeley, California, with other friends. Have you heard of the Rubinoos? They backed me on a few songs.

Are you excited about this new compilation? It includes additional songs. Tell us more about it.

I love that the CD will have four additional songs that no one’s heard. Lately I’ve been working with Michael Purkhiser, in Los Angeles (I’m about 100 miles up the road in Santa Barbara). We did two of those four songs from scratch, and tweaked the other two. One of the tracks is from 1984, and one is from my sessions with the Rubinoos. And one is about the Beatles!

Liberation Hall also has a vinyl release of this compilation planned for later.

That’s true. I’m glad it’s getting a vinyl release as well as a CD.

Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?

I’ve decided, and it was an easy decision, that my favorite gig with Raspberries was the very first one. I’m standing there, playing bass on ‘Go All The Way’ to a screaming crowd. If there had only been that one night, it would have been good enough for me. It was also cool to play Central Park in New York City, at a big springtime festival, free to everyone, with tens of thousands there, and have the band introduced by John Lennon. I mean, come on!

Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.

Thanks so much, Klemen, for your interest in me and my music. Great questions. And thanks to you all for taking the time to read about it.

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