"Tell me what can a poor boy do 'cept to play for a rock roll band..." The Rolling Stones
In 1966 Norris Lytton, sax, John Fisher, bass, Mike Clendenin, drummer, Mike Corey, guitarist, Ron Frame, trumpet and Tony Senator keyboards and vocalist extraordinaire were in a popular band in Charleston WV called the Epics. They were a soul band more or less with English invasion influences. John was going to Ohio State, Tony was going to Beckley College in Beckley WV, with fellow classmate Harry Fuller, also a drummer. Mike Corey was attending Morris Harvey, and I believe Ron Frame was also in the local college, and of course, Mike was involved with Corey Brothers - a supplier of fresh fruits, veggies, etc. to Charleston restaurants. Norris was going to West Virginia University. They played lots of James Brown, Chuck Jackson, and enough English covers to make it interesting and diverse. They played regularly at the Sherwood Inn and the Roaring Twenties.
Norris would get on the greyhound bus in Morgantown on Friday afternoon and when he arrived in Charleston many hours later, the band would pick him up and head straight for the early gig at Sherwood Inn in Charleston. Later the same night, they would break down the equipment and go to the Roaring Twenties and play until 4am or 5am. The next day, Saturday afternoon, they'd rehearse at the Roaring Twenties, and play there that night again until 4am or 5am. Sunday, Norris would get on the early afternoon bus back to Morgantown and arrive at WVU at 11pm, and go to class on Monday morning. The schedule was becoming too hard to handle. Finally, they were making enough money that Norris was able to take a flight back and fourth during the second semester.
Larry was a singer without a band. He had decided in his junior year of High School in 1962, to be an entertainer and would lock himself in his room and sing along with records. On weekends he sang with a local band, Chuck Birch and the Velvetones and Bonnie Bee, usually at the Moose Club, Elk's Club or Sons of Italy Hall. Larry says "I entered the High School talent show and surprised a lot of people because I had always been so quiet, and nobody even knew I could sing. Suddenly in front of the whole school, there I was on stage singing Paul Anka's Diana, and Ritchie Valens' Donna. In my senior year I started a vocal group with two girls for back up. It didn't work. Next I got with a some musicians from school and started another band. It didn't work out either, so I started still another band, named the Spyders. During this early period I appeared on local TV twice with the Spyders. When I graduated I took a Greyhound to Ohio hoping to join a band or find an agent. I had no luck with either joining a band or finding an agent, but I did meet the Dovells ( Bristol Stomp) and Len Barry (1-2-3).
An agent in Cincinnati said if I wanted a job to learn Frank Sinatra songs , but I liked Rock and Roll so I auditioned for a television show where I could sing my kind of music. I was accepted and scheduled to appear on the same show with Dionne Warwick. I felt like my big break had arrived, but fate intervened. That same day President Kennedy was assassinated and the show was cancelled. The whole country was depressed and in mourning, and with my dream of being an entertainer put on hold, it was time to return to Charleston and get a job like my parents wanted. I got a job in a factory that made tanks and armored personnel carriers for use in Viet Nam.
We made those tanks by hand. There were no robots like the ones in factories now. The metal armor for the sides of the personnel carriers and the tanks , weighed hundreds of pounds. I don't recall the dimensions but they were bigger than a 4 x 8 foot piece of plywood. It was my job to get each one off a 3 foot stack on a wooden pile-it and put it onto a table, and grind the edges to an angle for the welders. I weighed 150 pounds, it weighed 500 or more.
There was a technique to it. I had to squat like a weight lifter, push it off the stack so the front would rest on the floor, then push it up into a vertical position and let it fall over forward, oe end landing on a work table. Now and then my arms or legs would simply give out before the piece was completely vertical or in correct position to land on the table. When I felt my arms and legs turning to jelly, it was like a deadly dance. I had to act quickly before it fell and crushed me, and I would shove the piece forward with all the remaining strength I could summon and get out of the way. It would come back at me. You might not realize it, but a piece of metal that big bounces like rubber. It would bounce back at me and might graze my shin, ripping 6 to 8 inches of skin off under my jeans in the process, or it would graze my ankle leaving it sore. When it fell on my foot it might tear the leather exposing the metal in the safety boot. It would have definitely broken any bones with a direct hit.
I would go home exhausted and dirtier than you can imagine, covered with black metalic dust from the armor. In the factory it was always hot. There were sparks in the air from metal being ground and polished and constant fire from welding torches. It was like an organized hell. The black dust would cake in my ears and nose and the hair on my head weighed much more by the end of the day. I had a hard hat, goggles and a surgical mask which made the goggles steam up and hard to see through, so I didn't always wear the mask. But with or without the mask I couldn't avoid breathing the metal dust which I coughed it up at night. The factory noise was loud. You had to be right next to someone to hear them speak.
I never forgot my music and I would sing at the top of my lungs in harmony to the noise of the machines while I worked. It was a regular band with the deep bass thumping, clanging of metal being bent and shaped under tremendous power of big presses, and the whirring of drills and grinders punching and polishing metal. The others might have seen my lips moving but I don't think anyone could hear me singing. One day I asked for a Friday off to audition for a band in Morgantown, but the superintendent said no. I took the day off anyway and auditioned for a soul band, but a guy who sang like James Brown got the position and I lost my factory job. I never regretted it but my parents were angry. I tried to get a job as a radio DJ, or any position, but the station wasn't going to hire and train a young, single man who wasn't in school. The station manager said it was a waste of time because I would be drafted and all the training would be for nothing. He said get an education and then come back, so I enrolled in West Virginia State College."
One Friday night in the summer of '66 Larry was cruising Kanawha City with his friend and former drummer, Ronnie Binford. They saw Norris walking. Ronnie knew him. Both had graduated a year after Larry. Ronnie said let's give him a ride. That's when Larry and Norris met for the first time. Norris invited Larry to an Epics' rehearsal. Tony Senator and John Fisher were talking about going to West Virginia University (WVU) in Morgantown where Norris was enrolled. The Epics were breaking up. They and Norris were tiring of the routine of the rushed trips between Morgantown and Charleston. Tony along with Harry Fuller and John transferred to WVU. Ronnie Frame and Mike Clendenin married their high school sweethearts and moved to Charlotte, NC. Norris and John convinced Larry to transfer to WVU too. It was all so spontaneous, Tony, John and Larry barely had time, only one week left, to enroll in WVU. But they all had the grades so they were accepted. Tuition was outrageously low, $50 a semester.
Larry's brother had just graduated from WVU and was giving up his apartment. John and Larry moved into the apartment at 454 Pine Street. Norris already had an apartment on High Street and that's where he met Tom Warfield whom he introduced to John. Warfield was a great guitar player. He moved in at Pine Street and Norris moved to South Park with John Corey and Simon Bailey. Tony lived in the dorm. Warfield met a guy named Jim Bateman in one of his classes and Bateman also moved into Pine Street. Bateman is another story entirely :-) He eventually married a girl named Duck from Chicago, also another story. Love to Jim and Duck, where ever you are.
Then John Fisher, Norris Lytton, Tony Senator, Tom Warfield and Harry Fuller started a band which Tom named The Glass Menagerie. That line up lasted a semester until Harry got drafted and was sent to Viet Nam. Then Tony who was in ROTC got married and quit the band and moved back to Beckley, WV, eventually to go into the army himself. Warfield and John asked Larry to be the lead singer. Tom's lead guitar took the place of Tony's keyboard. John played bass. Norris played sax. They found a drummer named Jim Straub. Jim was quite a character and had been the Soldier of the Year in 1965. John was the only one experimenting with writing original songs at the time. They were strange, psychedelic.
Tom Warfield married Betsy Gerwhig that winter. At last Spring was coming and the Glass Menagerie was booked in the Midwest. Tom quit the band rather than go on tour. Jack Bond played many different instruments and came to all the Glass Menagerie gigs to watch. Norris remembers Jack showing up wherever they played, "I believe the first time was at a fraternity party, then maybe at the Pleasant Valley Fire Hall in Fairmont. He was a dedicated fan". With Warfield gone, John switched from bass to lead guitar, Norris switched sax to bass and John invited Jack to join the band as keyboardist. Jack didn't have a keyboard so John offered to buy one for him and let him pay it back little at a time.
John Fisher had made the connections with agent Ken Adamany in Janesville, Wisconsin, who later discovered the band Cheap Trick. We played songs by the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Animals, Music Machine, Seeds, Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane, and others along with some originals. Larry remembers The Rathskeller, "a very interesting club in Mankato, Minnesota that had the "smallest stage I have ever been on". The local college kids, artists and intellectuals came out to see the psychedelic Grass Menagerie and accepted them into their inner circle. There are some beautiful people in the heartland. Larry says "They welcomed us because, as they said, all they ever got in Mankato were some country bands and occassionally, some Buddy Holly cover bands coming up from Texas." There's nothing wrong with Buddy Holly, but variety is the spice of life. And a new kind of music was beginning. It was the Summer of Love.
As the tour ended, the Glass(Grass)Menagerie band broke up. Norris, Larry, and Jack returned to Morgantown and lost contact with John Fisher after he joined the Shadows of Knight. Jim Straub left for parts unknown and was not heard from again. After a few weeks back in Morgantown, they began to put together a new band. That's when Norris ran into John Vaughan at De Vincent's music store. John had met Norris in Charleston years before at John Fisher's house. John taught guitar at De Vincent's and was in the process of putting together a band with a female singer, Marla Collins, a guitar player Pete, and a drummer, Ted Smith who was a music major at WVU. Pete had just come back from India. Jack, Norris and Larry went to Pete's garage to jam with Vaughan, Ted, Pete and Marla. Marla had other interests and the band was going to take too much of her time so she decided not to continue with it. Pete's dad came to the garage and was not happy with the idea of a band jamming there, and told Pete he could not be in the band. That left Norris, Jack, Larry, John and Ted. Wham! Electricity!. That was the perfect combination and the Mind Garage, not yet named, was born. The magic mix was greater than any one individually. There was an energy surrounding them. 'No' was not in their vocabulary.
Through John Vaughan the unnaned band met the fiery, young Reverend Michael Paine and his wife Victoria from Boston. Rev. Paine was a courageous man who, in the words of the journalist John Corey "withstood the harranging and embarrassing harassment of opposition." from the church elders. It was Victoria (Tori) who named the band the Mind Garage.
Reverend Paine wanted to use Rock and Roll in church. John Keester and Bob Reeger, owners of the small Mother Witherspoon bar were kindred souls who were persuaded by Michael and Tori, to let the Mind Garage play in their club. By that time Jimi Hendrix was Experienced, Cream was in the White Room, Procul Harum had turned a Whiter Shade of Pale, and the Doors were sleeping all night in the Soul Kitchen, Tim Leary had turned on, tuned in and dropped out, Surf Music was dead and Psychedelic music was wild, alive and growing. Morgantown was reeling from the effects of the Mind Garage. Another battle ground in the Cultural War was taking place. "Those dirty beatnik hippies" is what they called us. Larry recalls, "Although we were gathering a large following, there were many others who violently disliked 'our kind'. We weren't dirty, weren't beatniks, and didn't know any hippies. We were simply us. Not evil, not overly religious, but Christian. John was the son of a Baptist preacher. Ted and Jack were Catholic, Norris and I were Protestants. To understand how hostile some of the people felt about us, one afternoon a man in a suit passing by the Witherspoon said to Jack, "someone would throw a bomb in there". We were spat upon as freaks, called communists, and were victims of discrimination, hatred, ridicule, lies, beatings and sometimes called anti-christ. The unfortunate longhair walking alone somewhere at night would now and then come across a group of rednecks, frats or jocks hanging out drinking. They would block the path to intimidate the 'hippy' and one of them might whip out scissors to cut the long hair. Having your person threatened over the length of your hair seems absurd now. In some respects Morgantown, a mix of intellectuals and cowboys, seemed like the Wild West.
The Witherspoon's beer license was revoked allegedly because alcohol had been sold to a minor. I don't know if that's true or not. But revoking Witherspoon's beer license, leaving soft drinks as the only available beverages, only increased our exposure, because now anyone, even those under 18, the legaldrinking age at the time, not previously allowed in the Witherspoon, could come into the club to hear us play. We continued to pack the club that didn't sell alcohol anymore. That speaks volumes in what was at the time the #1 college party town, and still is I think. But as much as we loved The Mother Witherspoon the owners could not make it financially selling only soft drinks. We made a transition to the Olympia, where we had not been able to get a job until our reputation from the Witherspoon preceded us. The Witherspoon closed. The band's reputation and notoriety continued to spread to Pittsburgh."
Reverend Michael Paine had met Malcolm Boyd, also a Reverend and author who had written a book entitled "Are you Running With Me Jesus". That's when Rev. Paine got the idea to combine the Episcopal church's new Liturgy with rock music. The way Rev. Paine expressed it, "you shouldn't leave your humanity at the door" when you go to church. He wanted to bring the music of the beer halls into church in the same way Bach's tavern music had been used in church. We wrote and premiered the Mass in Morgantown soon after, but it was almost stillborn because a photo of the band and Reverend Paine standing around a tree provoked such controversy the church father's forbade us the use of church property. But at last a place was provided by Reverend Jennings Fast of Wesley Methodist Church. That was the turning point. Once we began, it was amazing, the hatred and bigotry toward us mostly disappeared. After the rock worship service, one fur collared woman exclaimed to her dark suited husband on the way out, "I didn't know they were like THAT!! That was BEAUTIFUL". And so it was.
Cossie was from Pittsburgh, 100 miles, and many hours away before the interstate. You have to remember this was in the days before PC's, web pages or email, or for that matter 8-tracks, cassettes, Cds, etc. Computers were so big they occupied entire buildings. Word of mouth was how news of the band had spread. Coz heard about us and wanted to be our manager. Cossie and Reverend Paine toured with the Mind Garage playing the Electric Mass and also commercial shows in clubs and arenas on the east coast .
Larry says "the Mass was reserved for the church and we never charged for performing it. Wherever we went they invited us back. Often we did return. During 1968 we recorded some demos in the Glen Campbell Studio in Pittsburgh, Pa. Later that same year at Bell Sound Studio in Long Island, New York, we recorded Asphalt Mother and Reach Out which was released on our own Morning Glori Music label. Then in 1969 Cossie secured a recording contract for us with RCA Victor. We recorded one album and two singles for RCA studios in New York, and Chicago before making a pilgrimage to the west coast to spend some time in San Francisco in the Haight Ashbury. It had been arranged that Cossie would send our equipment but it never arrived, so we were unable to play. The band returned to Charleston, West Virginia where we took up residence.
John Vaughan stayed in California, and eventually married, but the rest of the band was soon headed to the RCA studios in Nashville run by Chet Atkins. There we recorded "MIND GARAGE AGAIN" and included the Electric Liturgy. We felt that if we didn't take this opportunity to record it, it could be lost forever, as we did not have plans to play it forever. It was an experiment, and not meant to become the standard service. It was the very first rock and roll religious music ever recorded in Nashville. There were always several spots in the Mass where we could insert any song we wanted. Water and Circus Farm from the 1968 Pittsburgh session were re-recorded at RCA studios as part of the Mass for the AGAIN/Electric Liturgy album because we needed original filler, not because they had an particular significance to the Mass. Sometimes we substituted, "Oh Happy Day" or "People Get Ready", both old spirituals into the spots, or another favorite, "Get Together".
There is a tangential history to "Get Together" by the Youngbloods, who had also been on RCA before we became the Mind Garage. The Youngbloods' song "Get Together" had been released before in 1967. Jefferson Airplane who were also on RCA released the song. It had not been extremely successful for either group. I had never heard the song when one day in the winter of 67-68, John and Norris arrived at the Olympia where we were practicing and said let's put this in the Mass. They told me the words and hummed the tune. It became one of our most well liked songs in the Mass befoe it became the anthem of a generation. One day in 1969 at the RCA Studio B in New York ( the studio where Elvis stood under the stairs to achieve an echo effect ) we were warming up with "Get Together" and some RCA executives came in, among them Don Burkheimer. They listened as we rehearsed and I remember clearly hearing one of them say with surprise, "hey, we own that song." They decided to start promoting the Youngblood's version again. It appeared in a public service ad on TV. Within six months the song was a chart buster. It is not often that a previously released song is released again several years later by the same group on the same label and becomes a smash hit. We never met the Youngbloods, and I doubt if they knew what part the Mind Garage played in their success, but that Thanksgiving of 1969 we were in San Francisco and we heard they had reveived $200,000 in royalties from RCA. Their response was to take the money and leave RCA.
When I told this story to Les Peterson, a good friend and our music consultant he wrote to me: "That is interesting about the Youngbloods song. That explains why it charted two different times. It first charted in 1967 and only went to #62. It was re-released with a different B-side and different ID number but the same version in 1969 and that is when it made it big."
The Mind Garage was in Charleston and another album finished, without John. The next stop was Bill Graham's Fillmore East in New York. After that, for the last time, we played with the Iron Butterfly. We began to go our separate ways with longer intervals between returning to the band. Jack would go home to Fairmont sometimes for days or weeks to see his friends and parents. Norris was a Charleston native and he spent more time at his home than with the band. Ted and Larry mostly ocupied the house in Charleston and Norris and Jack stopped in now and then. Plenty of friends dropped in too. I can't even remember locking the door. It was open house. Before long Ted and Larry started to drift in and out of the house too.
Then in April 1970 the band simply stopped playing. There was no discussion among us, no fanfare, no announcements, and we had not broken up. One by one each of us left the house, and never came back. Amazingly we walked away, abandoning the house and equipment. It hadn't been planned. I didn't know at the time, but I learned that later Cossie had collected the equipment and sold it for us. What ever we were thinking, if we were thinking at all. It's as if we had been called together for a time, or a task, and now it was recess. It was like exhaling. It's strange, almost funny. Norris says, "somebody forgot to call another practice, that's all".
Larry says "We were as close as brothers, but afterwards we went our separate ways and rarely communicated, as if we were under a spell. Who knows why? I didn't think about it. I didnt have contact with anyone for years. I moved to Detroit with my wife, Vicki, who I had married while on the midwestern tour. Unknown to me, Ted had moved to Detroit too. That will give you an insight as to how little we communicated. I ran into Ted after about a year by accident. But I didn't like the cold in Michigan and moved to Florida with Vicki. John remained in California and was married. Ted remained in Detroit also married. Norris remained in WV and was married. Jack stayed in WV but never married. My marriage with Vicki ended and I returned to the WV from 1973 to 1977, until I returned to Florida permanently in 1977. The band never got together or spoke again for over a decade, until one day in the summer of 1983 we were all invited to the Bon Ton, Dr. Ken Roberts' wedding anniversery by Michael and Tori Paine, who somehow knew how to contact each of us. John had come to the party. Someone asked us to play a few songs and we did using the equipment of a British group who was there. It felt good, so we made plans to meet again for a recording session in a few weeks. "
That was the Carolina Session. At that session, the band, minus John Vaughan again, got together to record for one day, the first time in 13 years. That CD hasn't been released yet. There are dozens of other songs that the band wrote and never released, packed away in forgotten places. Every now and then some come to light such as "Stained Glass Windows" written by Larry in 1967 before joining the Glass Menagerie. The Mind Garage played it in concert occassionally. It was finally recorded at the 1983 session with Evan Jones on guitar. If it ever is released, when you get to listen to "Stained Glass Windows", you can understand just how tight the band was. They talked the song over, and recorded it in one take with no rehearsal.
After 1983 the band drifted apart again for an additional 22 years, rarely communicating. Later John came back from California, and finished his education at the West Virginia University. Jack and Norris did also. They never were in the same band together for some reason, although they might have had the opportunity. Ted bought a home in Michigan, and became the tour drummer for the Spinners for 15 years, touring the world. He continues to play drums with famous artists. Jack took up residence in Florida and traveled the world as a solo artist, and is especially popular in Japan, Canada and Mexico. John Vaughan returned to California and works at Sanford U, and also plays in a Country & Western band. Norris remained in WV and worked as a specialist in the chemical industry. Larry worked in the floral import industry during the 80s, 90s, and the 2000s. All original members regrouped in 2007 for Goodstock, a 3 day festival promoted by Larry McClurg and Artie Kornfeld (of Woodstock 69), and have been writing and recording ever since. The results will be released in the future. Larry comments "In 2005 I received a CD from Jack which was made from the acetate of the 1968 Glen Cambell Studio session in Pittsburgh. In the Winter of 2004, unknown to Jack, his brother Dan found and taken the 1968 demos to Rick Ravenscroft, Jack's long time friend. Rick made a CD and presented it to Jack. Except for a brief appearance at the Carolina Session in 1983 when a few cassette tape copies were made, the acetate and the songs remained ignored, lost and forgotten for 35 years. Even though not a live performance, they represent the band at its finest, a young, original, energetic group. RCA heard, loved and signed them, but was never able to capture the raw sound. When I listened to the CD I was inspired to contact each band member again. It feels like no time has passed".
The Early Years CD, now titled "A Total Electric happening" employs all the technics that were used to make the live shows hypnotizing, demanding the crowd's complete attention. A live show really was psychedelic, mind bending. There are great crescendos and silences, mysterious hurried passages in panic, like something is chasing you and then suddenly, safety in soft alien music giving you space to breathe. When the band played in clubs everything stopped, nobody talked, nobody danced, nobody moved, they just watched and listened in unbelieving silence. When a song was over, the audience was in a trance, and it took a few moments to come down and realize they could move again. You could hear a pin drop until someone snapped out of it and started clapping or cheering.
In 2008 the Greek recording company Anazitisi discovered the Early Years CD and will release it in Europe as a commemorative vinyl album in 2009. The band continues to write and record new songs. The album is now available for the first time as a download.