Mike Randle is a guitarist whose projects have included his band Baby Lemonade, solo recordings, and his work with Arthur Lee and Love. He currently lives in Santa Monica with his wife. Recently I spoke with Randle about his musical influences, music in film, Baby Lemonade’s projects, working with Arthur Lee and Love, and his book manuscript In King Arthur’s Court.
DG: Who were some of your musical influences?
MR: From an early age, Elton John and The Jackson Five were it for me. The first two 45rpm singles I bought were “Bennie & The Jets” and “I’ll Be There.” I also used to beg to be allowed to stay up late and watch Johnny Carson when Chuck Berry was on; if there was any ONE thing that led me to want to play and perform for people then Chuck on the Tonight Show was probably it.
DG: How did your musical tastes evolve when you got older?
MR: When I was ten I was a big fan of Peter Frampton, Davey Jones, Bay City Rollers, The Zombies, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, and especially Shawn Cassidy, whose version of “That’s Rock & Roll” is still one of my faves. I moved on to more dangerous stuff like Hendrix, AC/DC, The Who, BTO, Rush (I have tix to see them on Aug. 11!), and Led Zeppelin.
DG: What’s your favorite Steely Dan record? I remember listening to the LP “Can’t Buy a Thrill” a lot when I was a teen, but for me “Aja” is their zenith.
MR: I think I would have to agree that Aja is most certainly their zenith. As far as listening goes, Gaucho and Royal Scam are a serious tie for my fave! I took my wife, Hannah, to see a Steely Dan tribute band called Dr. Wu, and she had a good time. She’s not much of a fan and isn’t really familiar with their music beyond a couple of the obvious hits. Well, we went to see the real deal when they performed the Gaucho album, front to back, and she loved it. But yeah, Aja is definitely the magnum opus of Dan records. Oh, and I can play the guitar solo on “Peg” note for note!
DG: What are some records you started collecting when you were a kid?
MR: When I was around 14 I really got into jazz and blues, and that’s when I picked up the guitar. I had also been collecting records since I was nine, so I had an incredible record collection…literally thousands of singles and albums. As far as Guitarist go, my top guns are (in no particular order): Larry Carlton, Walter Becker, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Echols, Edward Van Halen, Chuck Berry, Adrien Belew, Ry Cooder, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Chrissie Hynde and last but not least, the AMAZING Jeff Beck…whom I could listen to for 12 hours straight if I had to.
DG: What do you like so much about Jeff Beck’s music?
MR: Wow, that’s a hard one to nail down. To me, his guitar playing sounds like an original voice — it just grabs me and doesn’t seem to want to let go. There’s only one Jeff Beck. Although I love the whammy bar work of guys like Eddie Van Halen or Steve Vai, I truly appriciate guys like Jeff Beck (or even Steve Stevens) more because they use the whammy bar more as icing and not so much as the cake. With Jeff Beck’s playing, sometimes I feel it more than I hear it. His version of the Lennon / McCartney composition “A Day in the Life” is simply fantastically perfect.
DG: What’s your favorite Jeff Beck record? “Wired” is a great record. He and his band do a beautiful rendition of “Goodbye Porkpie Hat,” and “Led Boots” is a great song. I like how “Led Boots” funks out, and it’s got that B section in 7/8 time signature (and uses that time signature without sounding like math rock, which is sometimes what happens in prog rock).
MR: I would have to say Blow by Blow; his version of Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” is amazing. JB could do “math rock” without sounding nerdy, because he’s alway been a blues dude at heart. He plays all the ‘money notes’ that make you want to put the guitar down.
DG: Have you ever seen Jeff Beck live? I saw him last April at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and his group played a fantastic set.
MR: I remember being in high school and seeing Jeff perform here in Hollywood at The Palace (now called The Avalon). He had invited Les Paul on stage to jam with him. I don’t know if Jeff was kidding or if he really got upset, but he yanked Les’s cable out of his guitar because Les was mopping the floor with JB. And here I was, this kid, thinking, “Why is this old geezer, who can play the heck outta that guitar, naming himself after a Gibson guitar?” That’s how green I was.
DG: Have you seen Antonioni’s “Blow-Up”? There’s an interesting scene in it that features The Yardbirds, with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.
MR: No, I haven’t seen that film. I’ll certainly check it out!
DG: What would you say are some great films that feature musicians? For me, “Mingus 1968,” “Quadrophenia,” and “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” are some of the best.
MR: Well, the most beautiful and yet saddest of them all is Let It Be. I CRIED like a baby when George told Paul he could “play nothing at all, if you like,” or something like that. Wow, tough to watch, man. For real. And I saw that Mingus film…I was rooting for him to shoot the repo dudes with that shotgun by his piano. WHO EVICTS CHARLIE MINGUS?
DG: Yeah, that film is powerful. It’s really terrible to think that someone — a philanthropist, a foundation, or the government — wasn’t able to help him out then.
MR: That would have never happened in Europe or Canada, where the governments realize that art and music are important cultural foundations that shape and define who were are, as well as where and what we will eventually wind up being.
DG: Are there any other movies about music that you like a lot?
MR: I’ve always loved Spinal Tap. My best friend and I saw saw it in a movie theater, when I was 15 in Westwood. It turns out that Rick Nielson from Cheap Trick saw Spinal Tap in the same screening. I was a huge fan of his then (and still am now), and I went over to tell him how much I loved their music, and I tried to shake his hand. He just walked away. I believe to this day the movie pissed him off. (Rick, if you’re reading this, I forgive you). I saw AC/DC’s Let it Bleed around the same time and THAT had a lasting affect on me. Michael Jackson’s This Is It is amazing. I recommend it to any who is serious about being a success at anything.
DG: What do you like so much about “This Is It”?
MR: All the drama and tragedy aside, Michael Jackson was quite possibly the most gifted performer of our time. He was 50 when he died, but he started performing when he was six, and he was in the public eye from age 11 till his death. So, that’s nearly 40 years of performing, recording, and touring. As a performing, Michael Jackson was the best. Madonna gets replaced by Lady Gaga, and one generation of boy bands get replaced by the next generation of boy bands. Some entertainers copied and borrowed from Michael Jackson, but no one was as foolish to think they could take his crown. If you watch that film you’ll see exactly why he was the best. From the music to the instruments to the solos to the dance cues to the annunciation of the words, Michael Jackson was involved 100% in every aspect of his shows. It was terribly important to him that he felt each person had their act together. Unfortunately, he pushed himself without knowing limits, way too much and for way too long.
DG: Recently I saw “Beautiful Dreamer: The Making of Brian Wilson’s ‘Smile.'” Have you seen that?
MR: No I haven’t, but I’m a huge fan of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, and Van Dyke Dyke Parks. I still look for Orange Crate Art CDs on Amazon and send to friends as gifts.
DG: It was interesting how the film focused on Wilson’s genius, as well as his vulnerability and problems. Also I thought it was fascinating how much the final revisiting of “Smile” really could not have been possible without the support and encouragement of Wilson’s wife, Wilson’s long-time collaborator Van Dyke Parks, and Wilson’s band, especially Darian Sahanaja.
MR: I wasn’t at all surprised by the end result they had with Darian. Darian is talented and then some. I’ve spent many hours in the studio with Darian, and his creative energy and spirit make the time fly like nobody’s business. Brian and Van Dyke couldn’t have picked a better writer and musician to work with. I’ve also been on sessions he produced where he made me do so many takes that Donald Fagen would have blushed.
DG: Have you seen any great documentaries about a musician / band that you found particularly interesting, perhaps in that it provides a lot of insight into the creative process? Sam Jones’ “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” is a great film.
MR: Sam’s film is certainly one of my faves. Wilco is such a great, special band. I truly want them to win a Grammy one day so labels can get back on track in terms of investing in quality music again. By the way, Sam is one of my best buddies, and it’s worth noting that he’s a fine guitar player, a sweet guy, and an excellent cook.
DG: How was Baby Lemonade formed?
MR: Rusty Squeezebox, David “Daddyo” Green, and I formed the band in the fall of 1992 and later added bassist Henry Liu. We played our first gig at a club called the Coconut Teazer on the Sunset Strip that winter. The guy who ran the club, Len Fagen, once played drums in Love in the 70’s. In early ’95 Henry left the band and David Chapple joined. Chapple was in a rival band called Boys Named Sue who were fantastic and we loved his playing. When they broke up, we took him to a bar and got him so drunk he had no idea he’d joined Baby Lemonade. Of course that also meant he’d joined Love as well but that wouldn’t sink in till later.
DG: What were the first impressions you had of Arthur Lee and Love’s music?
MR: Rusty and I had this pal, Reno, that we’d been friends with since we were in our teens. Around 1987 or so, he discovered Arthur’s music. He actually invited us over to his home and said, “You gotta listen to this dude. He’s from LA, he’s black and he influenced The Doors and Hendrix.”
DG: What was the first recording by Arthur Lee that you listened to?
MR: Reno had this checkered cassette tape that Rhino Records had put out called Love Revisited. I remember being absolutely floored by how beautiful the melodies were, and how interesting and unique the guitar parts and bass parts were and how swingin’ the drums were. The voices and the reverb on the instruments all knocked me out. It reminded me of what I liked about the Byrds and Dylan but was cooler, to my ears. The whole band just looked BEYOND cool. I couldn’t get “Orange Skies” out of my head for ages. I finally went down to Penny Lane, a record store on Venice Beach, and had to special order the same tape because they didn’t really stock it. Reno had special ordered his from there as well. I found that astonishing they didn’t actually stock any Love albums.
DG: What would you say are some characteristics of “Forever Changes” that make it a masterpiece?
MR: Forever Changes is an amazing musical piece on many levels. It is, regardless of the brilliant orchestral arrangements and performances, a rock and roll record with a foresight not seen in many records of that time. Arthur Lee’s songs and his lyrics paint a picture of a world that contains more questions than answers. The tunes are almost like Twilight Zone episodes. I love all the mystery and layers that are imbedded into Forever Changes and found myself more than once in a trance onstage and I was a bit hypnotized!
DG: What is an example of the orchestrations on “Forever Changes” that you think is particularly amazing and cutting edge?
MR: On “Alone Again Or,” listen to the trumpet solo, and then listen as the 6th bar creeps into the 7th bar, where the E minor hits the A major, then and onwards to the 8th, 9th and 10th bars. The David Angel counter-melodies are beyond words, and you can feel them swerving in and out of melodic traffic with the horns. To my knowledge, there is no rock album that has all the qualities, nuances and back beat Forever Changes has, without having its ‘rock identity’ stripped by some hack conductor.
DG: What would you say are some important contributions by members of Love, on “Forever Changes”?
MR: One of the things I adore about the record is the presence of the acoustic guitar. Beneath all the layers is a driving acoustic, which is mostly Bryan McLean, if I’m not mistaken. Then there’s the tight and incredibly interwoven attraction between the bass and drums. Michael Stuart’s drumming is as good as it gets. Take any Beatles, Doors, Hendrix, Who, Zombies or Kinks records and none of them sound as good (to me) as his and none of them fit within the songs like his did. Michael’s performances are like little songs themselves.
DG: What do you think about Johnny Echols’ contributions to the record?
MR: Johnny’s guitar parts throughout the record are the glue that has made the record relevant and timeless and not just a folk record with classical aspects.
DG: What is something you’ve learned from him while working with him, in terms of that firsthand anecdotal connection with the music when it was originally recorded?
MR: If you took at the most talented prodigies at the Musicians Institute and taught them a Johnny Echols guitar solo, I would bet you they couldn’t play it like him because Johnny can’t be copied! Arthur knew that much. He never asked me to try to play like Johnny because he not only wanted a musician to be themselves but he knew no one could play like Johnny Echols except Johnny Echols. Unlike how most musicians record and/or work on music today, Johnny says that Love recorded the music in the way you hear it. If you feel a sense of connection and cohesiveness, then it’s probably due to the people who put themselves on that wax.
DG: What are some other great songs by Arthur Lee and Love that you particularly like?
MR: “Nice to Be” (early ‘70s), “Robert Montgomery” and “Singing Cowboy (off Four Sail c. ’69),”Softly to Me” off the first Love album, “Que Vida” from Da Capo and “Love on Earth Must Be”, which is one of the last songs Arthur Lee wrote and recorded (currently unreleased).
DG: What would you say are some aspects of Arthur’s oeuvre which people might not know so much about, but which you find really interesting?
MR: Arthur was very much into all kinds of music. He has quite a bit of unreleased things but if you were to hear as much as I have you’d know he had Stones-like rock tunes, R&B, blues, garage, soul…you name it. A year or so before he passed on we were working on a cool jazz song. Baby Lemonade actually performed it last week at John Einarson’s book signing here in West Hollywood’s Book Soup for the Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love event. It’s called, “If Given A Wish.” Again, unreleased. One of my fave Arthur tunes he wrote ages ago was called, “Love Is Like a Bowling Ball.” He has some great tunes that have not seen the light of day as of yet, but I feel confident they will eventually come out. He probably recorded an album’s worth of stuff in the last couple of years before he passed away. Other than a session singing on a Chico Hamilton record in 2003, Arthur only recorded with us (Love) after his 2001 release and I am not aware of any other recording projects before he died. The tune, “Love on Earth Must Be” I always found interesting because, in the song, Arthur mentions Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon — both contemporaries and friends — to make the point of how strong a connection their music made, with the underlying theme of “love on earth must be,” literally and figuratively. As we all know, Arthur was quite the wordsmith. We used to perform a song he wrote about his and Bryan’s relationship called “Rainbow in the Storm” as well.
DG: How did you first meet Arthur? What did you think of the challenges of playing his music?
MR: Keep in mind, it’s only fair that I warn you that I am working on a book of my years as Arthur’s guitarist (1993-1996, 2001-2005), so much of what I am telling you will appear in my book! The short answer to how we first met Arthur is that his old booking agent in the early 90’s, Tom Sweeney, met Rusty and I at the record store we used to run in Santa Monica. Tom was buying every Love and AL record and cd we had. Once I found out his connection to Arthur Lee I gave him a Baby Lemonade demo tape; we’d only just formed a few months prior to meeting him but I told him we were big fans of Love’s music, knew the tunes and would love the chance to open up a show sometime. A few months later an opportunity arose, we got the call and played before Arthur’s show at the Troubadour in Spring, 1993. Arthur watched out set from the balcony and had Tom call us the next day! He asked if we knew his music and said we reminded him of his original band. We were beside ourselves, man! We got together with him a few days later and jammed like 4 or 5 songs. I remember him playing us a video of Shack doing 7&7 Is with him in England. He loved those guys like family. Then we played out first show as Love and he had someone video tape it. We kept the intensity of the Shack performance but put ourselves into it, which Arthur liked a lot.
DG: Did Arthur have other backing bands?
MR: For financial reasons he used other bands (like the amazing Das Damen guys on the East Coast), but all in all, we were HIS band and we had some great years together and played hundreds and hundreds of shows together.
DG: How would you describe the standards that he put on you and the other members of his backing band?
MR: He demanded that you outdo yourself every night, and he could be tough when it came to that. But that’s the era Arthur came from, and many musicians these days don’t understand that you have to give 100% every time. Every solo has to be better than the last, and every harmony you sing should always be your best, or at least you trying your best. Make sure your guitar, cables, amp and pedals work great 100% of the time. That was the only pressure, but since we had that work ethic as Baby Lemonade it wasn’t an issue that often. I certainly think he held us to a higher standard than any of the other Love incarnations or backing bands, the original band notwithstanding. He just wanted people to have their act together, so when he got onstage he didn’t have to worry about the music, just the show.
DG: What are some things that you thought about while approaching and playing Arthur Lee’s and Love’s music? For instance, what would you say about the issue of playing music that was originally recorded several decades ago, yet you want to be mindful of the fact that the music is being played in a different era?
MR: When we started doing the gigs we weren’t sure of how we should play the songs. If we tried to play them verbatim they didn’t really translate that well (not without all the other instruments) and Arthur had this saying,” Play it LIKE the record of BETTER than the record.” He liked our energy, we were tight and we knew the songs inside-out. We simply stepped inside those records and thought to ourselves, how would the original band play these tunes live? So that’s what we went for. As a matter of fact the only prerequisite Arthur had was that we made sure no one ever felt good about following our show. If we didn’t headline he wanted to make sure he made the closer sweat and sweat good.
DG: What would you say is the most challenging part of Arthur Lee’s music, in terms of trying to figure out how to approach it? For instance, concerns relating to aesthetics, which guitar effects to use, how to tastefully use new technology that wasn’t available when the music was originally recorded, etc…
MR: Well, really it was only Forever Changes that gave us a run for our pesos. And on a practical level David Green and I had to work through our parts and see what was best for the music. We had to figure out when to stay close to the original parts, or to break away and make it more “lively.” Rusty went for an aggressively “live” rhythm guitar feel, and Dave Chapple stayed true to the bass parts but kept them lively and fluid as well. I did use my Boss DD-5 delay to double the strings on “Good Humor Man,” as well as on other things. I use quite a few effects to keep the sound happening, exciting, and sounding good for everyone, especially myself. Like these days, I use an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone when we perform “Orange Skies” for that 70’s type of phase sound. I use my 12 string electric guitar as well, on “Orange Skies.” I only use effects when they add to the mix and uncomplicate things.
DG: In addition to highlighting your work, as well as Arthur’s contributions, it’s interesting to mention other people behind the scenes who help to make things happen. Would you like to comment on working with Arthur’s widow Diane, as well as some of the other people involved?
MR: A lot of good people helped make the Love train roll, over the years when I was involved. I will inevitably leave names out… It goes without saying that Diane Lee was there when Arthur first hired Baby Lemonade, and of course years and years before that, and she was there in his hour of need. So I have known Diane since 1993. Arthur was a complicated dude, and he was very fortunate to have somone like her in his life, someone who had his best interests at heart.
And, as far as the Love train goes, here goes: Gene Kraut (Manager), Glenn Povey (Manager), Mark Linn (booker), Tom Sweeney (booker), David Fairweather (booker / manager), Bent Gudme (tour manager for Europe), Karsten “Kose” Sorensten (front of house — Europe, UK, US), Treols (guitar tech — Europe, UK, US), Pete Magdaleno (front of house / tour manager, USA), Antony (merch in the UK), Gary Stern (sound), Fraser (merch in Europe, UK, USA), Mick (tour manager in the UK ), Mike “Ringo” Harrison (crew in the UK), Richard “Rocky” Meehan (crew in the UK), Goff (lights in the UK), Tina Winter and Liz Barnett (film crew in the UK), Frothberg (guitar tech — US), Bob Zebra (merch printing), and Chris Lee, the worst roadie ever!
DG: Who are some of the other musicians that were part of the “Love train”?
MR: Our “to the rescue musician when called upon” David Nolte; the entire incredibly talented Stockholm Strings and Horns including, but not limited to, Eric, Ketil, Bjorn, Anna, Malin, Caroline, Stephan; The Silverlake Strings and Horns including, but not limited to, Heather, Carrie, Julie, Paula, Ana; and the horn players we still — Probyn Gregory and Dan Clucas.
DG: It’s interesting when music can reach a new generation, especially music that didn’t get its proper due when it first came out. Personally, I think of music by Arthur Lee and Love, Nick Drake, and Buffalo Springfield in that light. What are some things that you think are interesting about how music from a particular period can reach new generations / audiences, decades after the music was originally created?
MR: With each generation comes a re-introduction of awesome music — be it via film, TV, radio commercials or whatever new medium we’ve yet to discover. As people who love music, we are always on the lookout for something special. I guess it’s what separates us from the monkeys.
DG: What are some recent developments with Baby Lemonade?
MR: Lately, the band has been on hiatus with our time and energy going towards Love Revisited. I believe all our albums (+ bonus tracks) are available on iTunes and through Varese Sarabande Records. Love Revisited should have a live album out later this year from a festival we played in Germany several years ago. Rusty (co-lead vocals in both Baby Lemonade and Love Revisited) moved to Sheffield, England 2 ½ years ago, so I’ve had to take a more involved job with the lead vocals, along with Johnny Echols, who continues to play superb leads night after night. We did an eight or nine city East Coast / Midwest tour last August as well.
DG: How did that tour go?
MR: It was meant to be with The Electric Prunes and our old buddy (and Arthur’s lifelong friend), Sky Saxon, touring with Love Revisited as a 60’s package called the California ’66 Revue. Well, Sky died last June, and the Prunes made other plans so we did the tour ourselves. The fan support was fantastic, and the clubs treated us great.
DG: One of your projects is your blog. What are some interesting connections between writing and music, for you?
MR: I started the blog with Ed “Freedom Man” Toussaint in Holland in the spring of 2002, it was his idea. For me, songwriting has always been about “moments,” and writing is much the same. You want to use your own voice to get across who you are, what you feel and what you need to say. In some strange way, it’s almost like demanding to prove to the world that you exist, but in a positive way.
DG: Recently you wrote about your impressions of Einarson’s new book about Arthur Lee. What would you say is the best part of the book?
MR: In the book, I think I enjoyed the era from 1970 to about 1982 the most because I never knew much about those years and Arthur never wanted to talk about those years. That Love group from 1965 to 1968 were simply magical, yet Arthur went out and formed another band in 1969 that were totally different yet they were really great. Even though he never again had a ‘magical’ musical situation like he had with Johnny Echols and Bryan McLean, he still contributed a good number of quality work and the book points that out quite correctly. Knowing how good a writer John is, I know he did his best and I know he’d written loads more, but with editing and size constraints, a lot had to be scaled back.
DG: Is there anything in the book that you disagree with?
MR: Yes, on Page 277. I’ll leave it at that.
DG: What other projects have you been working on?
MR: Love Revisited play around Southern California several times a month and we’re looking at offers to go up north to the Bay Area. I’ve been working on some recording projects, which I hope to see released sometime later this year or early next year. I’ve also been crafting a manuscript out of 15 years of notes and diary entries, based on my experience working with Arthur Lee and Love.
DG: How’s that book project coming along?
MR: It will be called In King Arthur’s Court, and I hope it will make people laugh themselves silly. Arthur was the funniest guy I ever had the pleasure of meeting, and when you read what it was like around him you’ll see why we were able to keep it together. No matter how crazy he could be about nothing sometimes, you could usually get him out of that mode by saying something funny. He once (seriously) asked Dave Chapple to “stop playing them hillbilly licks” after a show in Dublin.
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