Monday, October 6, 2014

The Late Great Paul Revere of The Raiders

Paul Revere (far left) & The Raiders
circa 1967

Paul Revere, founding member, leader, and keyboardist for the legendary rock band Paul Revere & The Raiders, died Saturday, 4 October 2014, at the age of 76. The cause was cancer. Known for dressing in Revolutionary War garb, Paul Revere & The Raiders had a string of hits in the mid to late Sixties, including "Just Like Me", "Kicks", "Hungry", "Good Thing", and "Him Or Me, What's It Gonna Be". 

Paul Revere was born Paul Revere Dick on 7 January 1938 in Harvard, Nebraska. As a boy he learned to play piano and formed his first band while he was still a teenager. A restaurateur in Boise, Idaho in his early twenties, he met Mark Lindsay, who worked at a bakery that provided hamburger buns for Paul Revere's restaurants. Mark Lindsay joined Paul Revere's band as lead vocalist and saxophonist. It was Mr. Lindsay who suggested that they name the band "The Downbeats". The band cut a demo for Los Angeles based label Gardena Records, who insisted that the band change their name. As Paul Revere Dick shared his first and middle names with famous Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, The Downbeats became Paul Revere and The Raiders.

Paul Revere & The Raiders' first two singles ("Beatnik Sticks" and "Paul Revere's Ride") failed to chart, although their third single, the saxophone driven instrumental "Like, Long Hair", went to #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961. Unfortunately it was about the same time that Paul Revere was drafted into the military. A conscientious objector, he spent his time in the service as a cook in a mental hospital. In the meantime Mark Lindsay and the band continued to tour with Leon Russell taking Paul Revere's place as keyboardist.

Paul Revere was demobilised in 1962 and returned to the band that summer. The group relocated to Oregon where they soon became known for their performances. Eventually Paul Revere & The Raiders attracted the attention of Columbia Records, who signed the band. Unfortunately their first single for the label would be outshone by another version of the same song by another Northwestern band. Around 13 Apirl 1963 Paul Revere & The Raiders recorded the song "Louie, Louie". On 6 April 1963 their rivals, The Kingsmen, had also recorded the song.  The Kingsmen's version of "Louie, Louie" went all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent a total of 16 weeks on the chart. In comparison, Paul Revere & The Raiders' version only went to #108 on the Billboard singles chart. Of course, while Paul Revere & The Raiders would go on to become one of the best known bands of the Sixties, The Kingsmen would remain known primarily for "Louie, Louie".

It was in 1965 that what is regarded by some as the classic line up of Paul Revere and The Raiders took shape. It was then that bassist Mike "Doc" Holliday was replaced as bassist by Phil "Fang" Volk. Through 1966 Paul Revere and The Raiders consisted of Mark Lindsay on lead vocals, Paul Revere on keyboards, Drake Levin on guitar, Phil Volk on bass, and Mike "Smitty" Smith on drums. Drake Levin had to leave the band in 1966 in order to fulfil his military service by joining the National Guard, although his guitar work can be heard on the late 1966 album The Spirit of '67. He was replaced by guitarist Jim "Harpo" Valley.

It was also in 1965 that Terry Melcher, who had produced both The Beach Boys and The Byrds, became their producer. Mr. Melcher fashioned a new sound for Paul Revere & The Raiders, one that blended the sound of such British bands as The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, and The Who with that of American R&B. Quite simply, Paul Revere & The Raiders went from early garage rock to proto-power pop. The new sound proved successful. The band's single, "Steppin' Out", went to #46 on the Billboard singles chart, the highest the band had charted since "Like, Long Hair" in 1961. Their next single would prove to be their biggest hit yet. "Just Like Me" peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In the wake of the success of "Just Like Me" Paul Revere & The Raiders would have a string of hits on the Billboard Hot 100. At one point their total sales would only be surpassed by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Paul Revere & The Raiders reached the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 with the songs "Kicks", "Hungry", "The Great Airplane Strike", "Good Thing", "Ups And Downs", "Him Or Me, What's It Gonna Be", "Let Me", and yet others. Their albums also sold well. Just Like Us! (1966) went to #5 on the Billboard albums chart. Midnight Ride (1966) went to #9, as did The Spirit of '67 (1966). Midnight Ride is notable for producing a song that would become a famous track for another band. "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" would later be recorded by The Monkees.

In the mid-Sixties Paul Revere & The Raiders were aided a great deal by appearing frequently on television. Paul Revere & The Raiders were regulars on Dick Clark's weekday afternoon show Where the Action Is from 1965 to 1966. On the show the band dressed in their signature Revolutionary War uniforms and engaged in slapstick comedy in between (and sometimes during) songs. Paul Revere and Mark Lindsay later hosted Dick Clark's Saturday programme Happening '68, on which The Raiders frequently appeared. They also hosted its weekday spinoff, It's Happening. It's Happening would be cancelled in late 1968, while Happening (as it was later retitled) lasted until late 1969. Paul Revere & The Raiders also appeared frequently on other television shows in the Sixties as well, including Hollywood a Go-Go, Hullabaloo, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and Della. They even put in an appearance on Batman.

Unfortunately things began to fall apart for Paul Revere & The Raiders in the late Sixties. Guitarist Jim "Harpo" Valley left in early 1967 to embark on a solo career. Drake Levin would return to the band as its guitarist, but would not remain long. He, Phil Volk, and Mike "Smitty" Smith left Paul Revere & The Raiders in spring 1967 to form their own band, Brotherhood. Perhaps more serious than the line up changes in Paul Revere & The Raiders were the changing musical tastes of the late Sixties. Although Paul Revere & The Raiders were not regularly hitting the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 as they did in the years 1966-1967, the band continued to hit the top forty well into 1969. Unfortunately, "Let Me" would be their last top twenty hit for some time. While their albums of the mid-Sixties hit the top ten of the Billboard albums chart, their albums Hard 'N' Heavy (with Marshmallow) and Alias Pink Puzz (both released in 1969) only went to #51 and #48 respectively. Sadly, Paul Revere & The Raiders' proto-power pop sound was out of step with the psychedelia and progressive rock of the late Sixties, and their Revolutionary War uniforms and choreography made it difficult for some to take them seriously.

In an effort to regain their success, Paul Revere & The Raiders then became simply "The Raiders" and attempted to change their sound. Collage saw The Raiders experimenting with psychedelia and the sort of jazz rock characterised by Blood, Sweat, & Tears. The album sold very poorly, going only to #154 on the Billboard albums chart. The Raiders' fortunes would change after they recorded the  John D. Loudermilk song "Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)". First recorded in 1959 by  Marvin Rainwater, a version by Don Fardon had reached #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968. The Raiders' version would do even better, going all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The hit single was featured on the album Indian Reservation, which reached #19 on the albums chart. The second single from Indian Reservation, "Birds of a Feather", also did well. It went to #23 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Unfortunately, the success of  "Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)" would not return The Raiders to their former dominance of the charts. Their next album, Country Wine (released in 1972), only went to #209 on the albums chart. Its singles, "Country Wine" and "Powder Blue Mercedes Queen", only went to #51 and #54 on the Billboard Hot 100 respectively. The Raiders continued to release singles through 1976, although none of them charted. The year 1976 would prove to be a turning point for the band. Not only did Mark Lindsay leave the band, but Columbia Records dropped Paul Revere & The Raiders.

Once more billed as "Paul Revere & The Raiders", the band would release a few more albums. In 1983 there would be three albums alone. Special Edition was a self released album, while The Great Raider Reunion was released on ERA and Paul Revere Rides Again on Hitbound Records. These would be the last Paul Revere & The Raiders albums. Since then Paul Revere & The Raiders continued to tour. The band performed both in Las Vegas and at the Dick Clark American Bandstand Theatre in Branson, Missouri. The band's classic line up of Paul Revere, Mark Lindsay, guitarist Drake Levin, bassist Phil "Fang" Volk, and drummer Mike "Smitty" Sith reunited for Dick Clark's prime time special Good Old Days in 1978. Messrs. Lindsay, Levin, Volk, and Smith reunited without Paul Revere on 19 September 1997 at a performance in Portland, Oregon.

In many respects it was fortuitous that Paul Revere was named for the famous Revolutionary War hero. After all, during the later years of the British Invasion Paul Revere & The Raiders numbered among the few American bands that could rival the British groups in chart success. In fact, for a time the sales of Paul Revere & The Raiders records were only surpassed by two British bands: The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Of course, even with their chart successes (and perhaps in part because of them), there was a time in the late Sixties and early Seventies when Paul Revere & The Raiders simply were not taken seriously. What the critics who focused on their Revolutionary War uniforms, choreographed moves, and humorous antics failed to see was that Paul Revere & The Raiders were not only a very talented band, but also in some respects a very revolutionary band. Led by Paul Revere and Mark Lindsay and produced by Terry Melcher, Paul Revere & The Raiders created a sound that could be described as "proto-power pop" (or perhaps outright "power pop"). It was a sound that would have a lasting influence on both the rock subgenres of power pop and punk. Drake Levin's blues influenced guitar and Phil Volk's revolutionary use of the bass would have a lasting impact not only on power pop and punk, but on rock music in general.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Paul Revere & The Raiders' songs have been covered several times: "(I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone") by The Monkees, The Sex Pistols, and The Farm; "Just Like Me" by Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, and The Circle Jerks; "Hungry" by Sammy Hagar and The She Creatures; and "Kicks" by David Edwards and The Monkees.

Of course, Paul Revere & The Raiders would not have been possible without Paul Revere.  After all, it was Paul Revere who founded the band. It was also Paul Revere who brought such musicians as Drake Levin, Phil Volk, and Mike "Smitty" Smith into the band. It was those three who, with Mark Lindsay, would take a garage band with little in the way of chart success and turn it into one of the most successful bands of the Sixties, as well as pioneers in rock music. It was also Paul Revere who continued to tour with the band well after its heyday, thus keeping the band's name in the public eye. While The Raiders will continue without Paul Revere (billed as "Paul Revere's Raiders"), his death is then very much the end of an era.

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