What's Up San Carlos Newsletter
San Carlos Music Festivals – Save the Dates!
She will only be appearing publicly in San Carlos on three special weekends this season. Exclusively at La Palapa Griega and in association with Mexmo San Carlos, Lorena Robles will entertain on specific Fridays and Saturdays from 5:00pm to 8:00pm with awesome guests at The San Carlos Music Festivals!
December 9 and 10, 2016
Lorena’s first worldwide CD release parties for her self-titled “Lorena Robles” on Brazilian indie label, Starburst Records. Lorena will be joined by Las Vegas jazz sensation, Ira Hill. Finalists for the 59th Grammy Awards are announced on December 6, so hopefully we will also be celebrating Lorena’s nomination for Record of The Year (Sister Senorita!)
February 10 and 11, 2017
Mexican-American rock & roll icon Chris Montez returns to San Carlos. His all-star band will include pianist and former musical director for The Mamas & Papas, Johnny “Kito” Buonomasa!
April 7 and 8, 2017
Etta James protege and current 59th Grammy First Ballot nominee for Best Contemporary Blues, Deb Ryder, will bring her hot band for an unforgettable evening of blues on the beach!
Tickets info coming soon. Stay tuned to What’s Up San Carlos for details.
Bobby and Leslie in the Arizona Daily Star September 23, 2016
Who’s Who in Entertainment
by Eric Holland
Musica and cocktails always go well together, whether you’re the listener or the player. Our small, chico pueblito has a fair share of “borracheros” (those who indulge a bit too much)…but it’s all bueno! Tattoos and big fish are the same storyline.
The review this week is about Bobby and Leslie, who are experienced songwriters and performers since the 60′s. Man in Trouble was written back in 1990. Que Milagro — what a coincidence — here is a photo of Bobby and Leslie from that era! This is Leslie’s comment on the song: “We were at Poor David’s Pub in Dallas when we couldn’t help observing a dear friend who had drank waaaay too much tequila. A “borrachero” in the bar said “that’s a man in trouble,” and Bobby said “that’s a song!” Bobby and I wrote this song and won Top 25 in the 1990 Music City Songwriting contest”. Leslie goes on to say “the song sat in a drawer until recently when we revamped and re-recorded using a delightful assortment of San Carlos musicians and singers. New full-time resident, Rand Gahart, did the drums and mastering”.
Bobby and Leslie are finishing the season with two more Wednesdays at the Fiesta, May 9 and May 30. They are in the Delphin Palapa Bar from 5:00pm to 8:00pm and performing under the band name Mexmo.
Most musicians will say there is no “season”….musica in San Carlos goes on and on and on.
Manuelito has been performing outside at J.J.’s on late Tuesday afternoons. Have a Donkey Burro! Omar continues Mondays at Club de Capitanes for sunset silent movies and a pizza giveaway. Eric Holland plays your favorite classic rock, album cuts, amazing, original, Mexican ballads and jams with other local musicians at Marina Cantina on Wednesdays from 5:30 ish till….9ish, and don’t miss their Surf and Turf specials. He is also playing this week at Bonifacio’s Cotton Club and Beach Lounge with guest musician Daniel (violinist extraordinaire). You must try the Shrimp Quesadillas — they are delicious.
Times and dates of musicians may be found in the Entertainment calendar below.
Spanky McFarlane : "Sunday Will Never Be The Same"
Q. Your hit songs "Sunday Will Never Be the Same", “Lazy Day”, “Like to Get to Know You”, to name a few, have earned you millions of fans over the years, and they’re still being played. How did “Spanky and Our Gang” come to be?
Spanky: Well, I went to Florida, and I met Oz Bach and Nigel Pickering -- he was called Fred Pickering or Fred Williams, he’s had a few names from his past – and invited them to Chicago to visit me where I lived. Sure enough, they came. We didn’t have anything – we were poor. I lived above this nightclub called “Mother Blues”. They let me know that they needed an opening act in like four or five days. I think this was a Friday night, and they needed the opening act for Tuesday. This was my friend, who’s still my friend today, Curley Tait, and he said “You’re it. Come up with something.”
So, we went home and we learned every song we knew. I mean, every song that I knew, every song that Oz knew, every song that Nigel knew. Then we said “Well, what are we going to call ourselves?” I had the nickname “Spanky” then from the little “Our Gang” comedies. My last name is McFarlane, so I got that nickname. So, I said let’s just call ourselves “Spanky and Our Gang” until we think of a better name. We did, and we went on, and we killed them.
We loved it. We loved the Andrew Sisters – their harmonies -- and we loved Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. There was Rock then, but we didn’t know what we were going to be singing eventually. We all came out of Folk music. I came out of a Dixieland Jazz thing, and I studied Opera as a kid. It was very eclectic.
Q. In those early performances, did you do those harmonies then?
Spanky: Oh yeah. We loved harmonies. That was the most fun thing to do! But it was always “woodshedding”. We’d sit down and work them out – head arrangements. Nobody was reading music or anything. We just worked it out and tried to remember it by the time we got on stage. It was fun. It was really fun.
Then we added Malcolm Hale. I had worked him already in a folk group called the “New Wine Singers”, and we had a couple of records out there. We added Malcolm; it became four-part harmony. It made it all just that much better.
Q. So, how did you transition from playing in the club to a major label? Did you get “scouted” by the label?
Spanky: We did. Actually, we did. The home of Mercury Records was right there in Chicago, and they came to see us and they loved us, and they asked us to sign with them. It never occurred to us that we could have shopped around a little bit, so we said “OK. Sure, we’ll sign.” Then they assigned us a producer. We were assigned Jerry Ross. He had several hits for us off that first album.
Q. How long from the time you were signed at Mercury until the first record was released? Was an album released first and then a single?
Spanky: We did record an album. It wasn’t quite finished. They put out “Sunday Will Never Be the Same”, and even though the album wasn’t quite finished -- “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime” was just a reference vocal that we did about two or three in the morning, we hadn’t finished “Trouble In River City”. They realized that “Sunday” was going to be a hit, and so they went back in the studio and finished it without us, adding horns and other things. We were a little bit disappointed in that we didn’t get to finish the album ourselves, but who can complain when you have a hit album and the three hit singles off it?
Q. The song “Sunday Will Never Be The Same” debuted in the top ten – an incredible accomplishment. How did you get that one? Wasn’t it turned down by the Mamas and Papas?
Spanky: Well, I was with “The Mamas and Papas” for twelve years later in the 80’s and 90’s, and I never heard that it had been pitched to them, and we did the song every night. They always gave me a space in the show to do “Spanky and Our Gang Songs”, which was really very nice of John – John Phillips. So, I never did hear that. I suppose it’s possible, but they pretty much did their own songs and a few covers of old Motown kind of things.
Q. The charts were very competitive then – more independents, more variety in the labels. How were the single releases chosen? Were they “pitched” to you? What was the decision process? Did you instantly like them, or were there discussions, arguments, etc.?
Spanky: I think the releases were picked by the producers based upon how they turned out in the studio. They did pitch songs to us, but it was never “do this song or else”. It was more like “Do you think you can up with something for this song?” Then we would take it home and “woodshed” and work it out.
Q. Did you have any second thoughts or disagreements in terms of the singles that were released? Did the label decide to release a single where you thought they should have picked another one?
Spanky: I remember later on when “Like To Get To Know You” came out. I don’t think any of us thought that it would be a hit. So, that one was a surprise, but it could have been that the taste of pop music was changing a little bit.
Q. Well, let me say that I thought “Like To Get To Know You” was an absolutely tremendous song.
Spanky: It was a very, very nice arrangement.
Q. What about your producers? Who did you use and why?
Spanky: We started off with Jerry Ross and Stuart Scharf and Bob Dorough were friends of ours, and they had just produced Chad Mitchell, and we really liked what they did with him. We knew Jerry Ross, we were comfortable with him, and he was a good producer for us, but we felt that these guys could actually write for us, and it turned out that they could. So, we changed producers for the second album.
Q. That “bond” or the camaraderie is very important, isn’t it?
Spanky: Yes. I think it is when you’re spending months working on an album. We moved on and added group members and started singing six-part harmony.
Q. Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio? How did you react? What was the impact on your life when you realized the song was going to be a hit?
Spanky: We were in San Francisco – I’m not sure what we were doing – we were either playing somewhere, maybe at The Fillmore or somewhere, or maybe we had started recording our next album which we did from Sausalito. We rehearsed there. We rented a couple of houseboats and worked and worked on all of our arrangements. But, I do remember hearing for the first time ”Sunday Will Never Be The Same”. We were in a car going from San Francisco over to Sausalito on the Golden Gate Bridge. It came on the radio. It was summer, and it was like “Oh, my God! That’s our song!” We cranked it up. We had all the windows rolled down. We were telling people on the bridge as we were going across, “That’s us! That’s us on the radio!” We were so excited. We didn’t have a clue what that would mean. It turned into something that we’d never dreamed of.
I had no idea of what the impact would be later. We were so lucky. Now, move over to New York. We get with Murray the K – we do an interview with him. In New York, the songs they played were already proven hits across the country. Well, not so with Murray the K. He loved “Sunday Will Never Be The Same” We sat with him, did the interview, and he thought we were funny. He started playing the song, and he broke it for us on the East coast.
And then, it lead right to “The Tonight Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show”.
Q. At what point in your life did you realize that you were going to be a performer? Are you from a musical family?
Spanky: I started singing when I was about three years old. My mother said I could sing before I could talk. I guess I used to sing in the crib. I remember singing with the radio. I was the youngest kid, and everybody else had gone off to school. I had a big family – a lot of brothers and sisters – so they couldn’t give music lessons to everybody. I wish I had taken piano. They gave my sister piano lessons, and they gave me voice lessons, which, of course, I’m happy about.
That led to almost an operatic career, because I had a pretty good range. In school, I tried to sing for every occasion just to get out of school. Anything that was coming up, I would ask them if they needed anyone to sing – mother-daughter banquets, anything that came up.
I always knew that I was going to be a singer. My brother, John, introduced us to Rock and Roll. Now he’s in the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame.
Q. Who were your early influences?
Spanky: I loved the harmonies of “Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross”. And then it was the “Swingle Singers” for all the Bach fugue things they did. And then, of course, Barbra Streisand. I love her. I eventually met her. She was so wonderful to me.
Q. The group evolved into some fantastic harmony arrangements. Your “Like to Get to Know You” album had a rather complex rendition of the classic "Stardust". It’s been said that it was the inspiration for the Manhattan Transfer. How did the distinct harmonic signature of “Spanky and Our Gang” originate?
Spanky: The reason I know that it inspired the Manhattan Transfer is that I saw Tim Hauser at the Roxy in the 70’s, and we talked. He almost had tears in his eyes, and he said, “I remember hearing Stardust and thinking that I could do that.” It was kind of like me hearing “The Mamas and Papas” when I was in Chicago and hearing Cass – and I did know Cass from before – saying, “I could do that.” Not to copy them, but to be inspired.
The harmonic signature came about because we loved doing those things, the “ba-da-da” things. Even now, if I wanted to put a band together, it would be so hard to teach people to sing those. We thrived on them. We tried to make them as musical as we could.
Q. What about the song "Give a Damn"? It was somewhat controversial, and was banned in some markets, purportedly because of the title. But the subject matter was also controversial, was it not?
Spanky: It was about poverty and the lack of employment in the ghettos. This was around 1967. It started out as a commercial for Mayor Lindsay in New York. It was a project about urban development. We recorded it, and it caught on. It became an anthem for finding work for people in the ghettos. We decided that we absolutely loved the song, and decided we had to put it on our next album.
Q. Your vocal style ranges from folk, country, jazz, and pop. We’ve also heard several of your blues tracks, and you also have a very impressive, strong, earthy blues vocal presentation. Tell us about the “blues” side of Spanky.
Spanky: I have to thank “Little Brother Montgomery” for that and Wee Willie Dixon. Before “Spanky and Our Gang”, I was around in Chicago singing and I met “Little Brother Montgomery” one night at a jazz club called “The Bird House”. Someone told him that I sang. I was right out of high school – I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know any songs. Well, he let me sing with him, and he’d invite me to his home on the South side of Chicago. I remember taking the “El” down and getting off at 47th Street, and he and Willie Dixon would meet me at the station and walk me through the neighborhood and take me to their house.
Later, when “Spanky and Our Gang” started having hits, I went into the studio and brought that band in with me to record. We did some great sessions in Chicago, and came up with songs like “Mecca Flats Blues”.
Q. After the death of Mama Cass Elliot, you took her place in “The Mamas and Papas”. How did that come about? Had you known John Phillips or Cass Elliot prior to that? Was it an easy transition?
Spanky: I did know Cass. In the early 60’s she came through Chicago and we became really good friends. We would see each other occasionally in Chicago or New York. I was with “The New Wine Singers”. She was starting out with “The Big Three” and “Triumvirate”, and I guess they became the “Mugwamps”. We kept track of each other, but we were both going about our own careers. I saw her with “The Mamas and Papas” once in Madison, Wisconsin. They didn’t do that many concerts, you know. But I didn’t go and meet everyone at that time.
When I lived in Topanga, she came and saw us at the “Topanga Corral”, and that wasn’t too long before she died – I believe she died in ’74. Now, it sounds like they immediately started up the group again and asked me to join, but that’s not true. John was on his quest for drugs and drink in the ‘70’s. In ’80 – ’81 he needed a legitimate job.
In the interim, I had met Denny Doherty at a Bob Gibson session. We all sang on “I’m Stoned”. Denny and I clicked friendship-wise and musically. Then we did another song called “To Claudia On Thursday”. It wasn’t released, but I put in on the “Basement Tapes”. When they decided to reform the “Mamas and Papas” in ’81, John (Phillips) had gotten hold of Denny, and they decided that John’s daughter MacKenzie was going to be in the group and Denny remembered me. I was in California; they were in New Jersey. They called me. I said “Huh? Really? OK.” It didn’t take me long to decide. I moved my whole family to the Easy coast to be with them.
I stayed with them for 12 years, which was probably longer than “Spanky and Our Gang” put together.
The “Mamas and Papas” traveled all over the world. It was wonderful. We went everywhere – places I had never thought of going, like Iceland. We went to South America a few times – Brazil. We went to Germany numerous times. We got an award in Germany, called a “RUSH” award. All over Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, all of these wonderful paces.
Q. Was it an easy transition for you vocally? It appears that you and Cass had the same kind of power and range.
Spanky: It was any easy transition. All of that nice harmony that I was so familiar with, it was easy. My first year with the “Mamas and Papas”, we spent writing songs and learning songs. Then we went out to do the songs and realized they want to hear the hits. So, we had to go back in and learn all the hits. Every once in awhile we’d do a new song that we’d written or worked on together, but, basically, we had to do those hits.
Q. As you mentioned earlier, they also featured your hits in the performances?
Spanky: Yes, yes they did.
Q. We recently saw you on a PBS broadcast called “This Land Is Our Land: The Folk Rock Years II”. Looked like you were having a lot of fun. How did that project come about?
Spanky: That was such a nice thing, because it was the first time in thirty-five years that “Spanky and Our Gang” was re-united. Don’t get me wrong; Nigel and I continued to work together. Even when I was with the “Mamas and Papas”, he and I had a band back in L.A. when I wasn’t on the road. But, to get all the living members together – it was a first.
It came about through a very good friend of mine in Los Angeles, a guy who owns an optical store – called “Four Your Eyes” – and his name is Dave Hart. He’s a big 60’s rock fan. The walls in his store are covered with albums. If one of those artists should happen to walk into his store, he makes them feel like a million dollars. He’s such a wonderful guy.
He mentioned this PBS special to me, and somehow I started talking to the producers -- P.J. Labinski, Henry Deluca. This was the last one they were going to do for PBS, and they had all of these wonderful artists and they asked us to join them. They had “The Lovin’ Spoonful”, Trini Lopez, Judy Collins, Jim Brady from The Sandpipers, Scott MacKenzie, The Seekers, Hillside Singers – all these great acts.
Like I said, it was the first time we’d be re-united, and probably the last like that. We brought others in who weren’t members of the gang – Leslie Sahlen, Eddie Ponder.
To have everyone together was just so wonderful.
Q. In addition to all of the radio success and touring, you also appeared on some of the landmark TV programs of the time -- Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, Smothers Brothers. What were your thoughts back then when the cameras went on? Any “behind the scenes” stories?
Spanky: I do remember going to “The Ed Sullivan Show”. You’d go there on Thursday, and you’d stay there all day and rehearse. Back again on Friday – all day and rehearse. Mostly you waited until your time came up to rehearse. They wouldn’t let you out; you had to be there. It was Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and all day Sunday. By the time you do your show on Sunday night live, you’re exhausted.
One time on the Sullivan Show, we were singing away, and Ed comes out in the middle of the song and takes Nigel’s hat off and plops it down on Lefty’s head. We just kept singing. He was a strange guy. I guess he’d had a car wreck, and he was pretty heavily medicated. I don’t think people knew that. When the acts were on, they’d prop Ed up backstage on one of those ironing board things they use for costume changes. They’d wrap him in a trench coat and lean him up against there. That’s why sometimes he’d come out and start blinking and couldn’t find the cue cards – he’d been asleep.
Another time we were on the Sullivan Show with the Supremes, and I don’t know if he couldn’t see the cue cards or couldn’t remember their names, but he did say, “Now the three young negro performing girls”. They were mad, wow were they mad.
At the Sullivan Show, they were very good to us. They’d let us do skits. They’ve been on current shows like TVLand, VH1. I’m pretty sure we were the only group who actually did skits to our songs. We were on the Sullivan Show four or five times.
On the Tonight Show, I remember that when the commercials would come on, Johnny Carson would go over with this huge stick and start poking the orchestra – Doc Severensen. Johnny was like a wild man, and then he’d calmly go back to his desk and the camera would come on.
And, of course, we adored The Smothers Brothers. We had worked with them during the folk days, and then when they got the show. It was a sad time for us, because the first member of our group had passed away -- Malcolm Hale – and wasn’t with us. We did a couple of skits on that show, too.
Q. Over the years, you’ve shared the stage with many great musicians, writers, and performers. Can you name some of them for us? Do you keep in touch with any of them?
Spanky: Well, I still keep in touch with some of the rock and roll acts, but we’ve been on with people like The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horn, Sammy Davis – so many, many different stars.
The “Happy Together” tour in ’84 was with The Association, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, The Turtles, and Spanky and Our Gang. It went over big. It was a David Fischoff production. We got together with David, and we decided what bands we wanted to have, where we wanted to play. We did that for a couple of years, and then I went back with The Mamas and Papas, and we also did a couple of those tours. That evolved into a Monkees Tour and others. David also does The Ringo Starr Tour.
Q. Give us some information about the San Carlos Music Festival.
Spanky: We did that one in December. It was a benefit to help the “Rescate” – which is their ambulance rescue. They’d just had a hurricane, and their emergency medical supplies were depleted. We helped them by having the festival. We also helped them by playing for the kids of Guymas – the gifted music kids. They were given brand new guitars. Instead of giving them outright, they decided to make them loaners – like a library.
Leslie put all that together – Leslie Sahlen.
Q. What’s your relationship with Bobby and Leslie Sahlen? They’re two of our favorite writers.
Spanky: Well, I’ve known Leslie since the early ‘70’s. She did an interview with me for a magazine – I think it was for “Music Connection” magazine. We’ve been friends ever since, I mean good friends. She and Bobby got together, and they’re like family to me.
She’s sitting down there in Mexico with her computer. She and Bobby I have a lot of songs. Bobby and I write together, but I usually suggest what the song should be about, and he would put it tighter. Or maybe he’d have a song, and I’d come in and put the finishing touches on it. We’re not in the same city where we can sit down and do songs together. But, when we do see each other, we work on them.
Q. Who are you listening to these days?
Spanky: I don’t really listen to the radio much, but I just got the CD for the “Concert for George” – George Harrison – and I’ve been listening to that. He had some great songs. I’m the kind of person who listens to something over and over, and then I stop listening. But I’ve been listening to that one a lot. It was a great night – a lot of great performers.
Q. You have your own publishing company. What is the scope of the catalog and the business focus?
Spanky: That came through “Spanky and Our Gang”’. It lay dormant for years, and Leslie asked me if I’d like to resurrect it. She takes care of it all.
Q. How can people hear more of Spanky? What are you up to these days?