Merrell Fankhauser is not nearly as known as he should be for a lot of reasons. But he has continually gained a major cult following of rock fans who seek out highly creative musicians that never quite grabbed the charts or media attention. Merrell's music is simply some of the coolest music around, whether his songs are classic surf tunes, California rock music, mystical psychedelic rock, folk and blues, and even more creative combinations that go beyond simple genres. His book 'Calling from a Star' is a great read and is available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. He has a ton of music out, much of which available at his web site. He is a great guy and has lots of great stories that he shared with me as documented below.
David Hintz: Hello, yes, well that’s pretty much me. I don’t know quite why, but I get a lot of nervous energy waiting around before doing an interview.
MF: I know what you mean, I’ve got so much going on now with music, TV shows, editing and the book promotion and I’ve been doing all these radio interviews, so I get rather nerve wracked myself (laughter).
DH: Oh yeah, I was try to remember that, too, when I start to complain about my stress and work levels. The musicians I am covering are doing so much more of it themselves these days. There is so much to take care of, so my stress isn’t much. You have the harder job.
MF: Yeah, but you are calling from Washington DC?
DH: Yes… (going on about background, DC ROCK LIVE, and Folkworld, etc.).
MF: Very good. I am doing everything I can, David, to get the book out there. So far, the publisher hasn’t done press yet, but it seems to be selling well because seventeen people have sent me books to sign and send back to them.
DH: Well—that’s amazing. It has to be doing well as a lot of people must be buying are not going to go that far.
MF: Yeah and people are emailing me that they have bought the book and posting it on Facebook and everything, so I am hoping next month to start doing some press on it. So you will be one of the first ones to do an interview on the book. A guy did an interview with me for Shindig magazine in the UK, but that won’t be out until March, maybe.
MF: Yeah, I started out in 1990 because in the late seventies even, people were saying ‘man, you’ve had such an adventure, I mean, living on Maui, exploring pre-Hawaiian ruins and all the other people I’ve played with and they said you should write a book. So I came back from Hawaii in 1987—I had moved there in 1973, and started playing concert and recording. Then around 1990, my Mom said you should get started on that book. So I sat down at the typewriter (laughs)—no computer yet, and tried to remember stories. I had a lot of the Fankhauser history, where we came from in Switzerland and ancestors and all of that. Then I got up in to the music that started around 1960 or 61 and I couldn’t pin down dates exactly. She would say go in the hall closet and bring down that box. It was full of old newspaper clippings and magazine clippings and that really saved me as far as getting dates and things. So I wrote on pretty well from about ’91 until oh, around ’93 or ’94 and then I was so busy playing and started doing a TV show called ‘California Music’ and it ended up on a satellite coming out of New York going to 15 million viewers for about four years. So the book went back on the back burner for a while and then I would write on it for a few years and I just finished it about three years ago and so much has happened since I finished it, I wish that some of that had gotten in the book. But I had it finished and started sending it to publishers and got a deal and got it out. There it is at Amazon.com at the best price and it seems to be selling the most.
DH: Yeah, it’s awfully convenient to buy there. They even link other sellers to them, so it’s a source people start with often.
DH: You mentioned your Mom which hits a topic I wanted to begin with. You have had a very adventurous life, which I have known about for some time now. But your parents sounded more supportive than most like your Mom and Dad who was a race car builder and driver, and a pilot, so were you more open to adventure at early ages because of that?
MF: Oh yeah, he taught me to fly when I was only 14 years old. I could take off and land a Piper Cub. You know I was always living on airports that he was managing or running a flight school. He was a very adventurous guy like you said—he raced at Indianapolis, he was in a couple of old race car movies, one called ‘To Please a Lady’ with Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck. He was driving in that and another one called ‘The Big Wheel’ with Mickey Rooney. He also in his younger days played in a dixieland band, he played guitar. My Mom sang in big bands, so there was always music in the house. It rubbed off on me, so they got me a ukulele when I was about ten or eleven. I immediately started making up my own little tunes. That’s kind of where it started off, but yeah, my Mom and Dad were just so supportive of my music career, although my Dad did want me to be an aeronautical engineer
DH: well, yeah (laughs)
MF: And I went to college for a year and half. But then I had a good selling album, The Impacts ‘Wipe-Out’ album on Del-Fi Records and we ended up going out on the road with that. And after that I was severely bitten by the bug and I just kept going.
DH: Now you also had some days in your youth where you were backing various rock’’n’roll acts that came to town like the Righteous Brothers and Brenda Lee. What was that experience like?
MF: Oh yeah, that was really something, David, because we were all young, either high school students or just out of high school and we were playing here in Pizmo Beach—it was the biggest dancehall between Los Angeles and San Francisco at that time here in Central California Coast. It was called the Rosegarden Ballroom. Everybody you can think of came through here. It held about 1,500 people. I remember backing up the Isley Brothers, the Drifters I really remember because we backed them several times. Little Anthony and the Imperials and just a lot of groups from that era and they kind of scared us to death because they would have these intricate arrangements they wanted us to do and would put sheet music in front of us.
DH: Oh, that can be a challenge.
MF: And I read and you know at least they had the chord signatures for the guys that didn’t read could at least tell the chords that things were going to. But most of the stuff back then was fairly simple as it was based on 12-bar blues and didn’t have a lot of chords. But every once in a while there would be some minors. That was really something. We got to meet a lot of people and I became friends with the Ventures, a band that I loved. Their lead guitar player at the time, Nokie Edwards, even showed me the chords that I could not figure out in the dressing room before they went on and played. So it was a wonderful experience that helped give me a foundation for performing that carried on later in life.
DH: Yes, as I would think. And now back to your book. I read a lot of rock music biographies and autobiographies and there are two themes that seem to come into play. Things are good, but then go bad either to drugs/alcohol or the rip-off music business. I think you had much more of the latter than the former, but on the drugs/alcohol issue, it seemed like it was more peripheral rather than an undoing of a band (although I know some of you former members eventually had some serious problems)…
MF: Yeah, I never got in to any of the heavy drugs. I smoked Maui Wowee when I moved to Maui, but I was never a big drinker and I never abused anything. That’s why I’m still alive and going and a lot of my pals are gone now. Now the ripoffs in the music business, David, well we got a lesson early on because when we recorded that ‘Wipe-Out’ album in one day, as it was just songs that since I was a surfer, I just started putting surfing terms to these instrumentals we would write and we went in the studio where a talent scout heard us and took us down to LA. In one day, we recorded the album and we had no idea about copyrights or what kind of contract you needed.
DH: Oh yes…
MF: So we just recorded all of these songs and the producer just ran with them and sold them to Del-Fi Records and got an undisclosed amount of money up front in royalties and we had no idea at that time how long the contract was for. Then there was a younger guy who was a drummer for a band called the Challengers who was in our recording session and he was learning the publishing and the music production business from the two guys that were producing us, Tony Hilder and Norman Knowles. And he was in there when we recorded all our songs and heard everything we did. He later went on to produce and publish The Surfaris about 8 or 9 months later. There has always been this controversy about which version of ‘Wipe-Out’ came first. Well ours was recorded in September of ’62 and was copyrighted by… well, I have to call him a song shark—Tony Hilder because he put it all in his name, writer credits and everything, so he got all of that writer money from the record company and for the airplay from ASCAP. Then this Richard Delvy, he made a deal for the Surfaris to record ‘Wipe-Out’ and there are similarities in the song. People don’t know that in January of ’63, they took us back down to the studio to record another version. Our version had only one drum solo and a yell of ‘Wipe-Out’ at the beginning. And my guitar part which was very similar to the Surfaris and the chord progression is like a blueprint was kind of dipped down in the mix in the background. Well they pulled that up and had us do these drum solos. We thought that was going to be boring—that will never work, but anyway the Surfaris recorded a version with drum solos all the way through and Richard Delvy made a deal with Dot Records along with another song they had recorded, called ‘Surfer Joe’. They put that out and as you know, it was a big hit. So they said we need an album now. He went into a studio with his band and some studio musicians, recorded the rest of the songs needed for an album and then recorded a cover version of ‘Blue Surf’, one of the Impacts songs, took it to Dot records and said here’s the Surfaris album and took the money and ran. And the Surfaris didn’t even know because they had been recording an album and had given the tape to Richard Delvy. But he never played that tape for Dot. He put his own stuff out and they didn’t know that they only had two songs on their own album until it came out. I don’t know if it’s a widely known fact, but Bob Dalley did cover that story in his ‘Surfin’ Guitars of the Sixties’ book that has been out a long time. So, it’s just a strange thing, David, if the song sharks don’t get you, some guy in your own band may rip you off. It really hurt our band the Impacts and I think it helped our other guitar player become an alcoholic because he was just crying in his beer for getting ripped off for the whole album, we never got any royalties for that album until 1994 because of the movie ‘Pulp Fiction’. Del-Fi went back and put our album out on CD. Well I noticed that the copyright had expired, so I got the few remaining guys from the Impacts back together and we made a new copyright, so we got some money after that. But all the way from 1962 to 1994, we never saw a penny for anything. So we learned a lesson real quick.
DH: You did, and unfortunately it is a lesson that is repeated at various times to lesser degrees from that at least.
DH: I was reading about Tony Hilder… have you even followed his career? I mean, he’s on the conspiracy filmmaking circuit.
MF: Now I don’t know that. In ’94, when the Pulp Fiction thing came out, I heard he was doing a radio conspiracy radio show somewhere up in Alaska and he came back in town because several of his tunes that Del-Fi owned ended up in Pulp Fiction. I don’t know if you know this, but he was threatening to sue Del-Fi and trying to get money out of this movie and he was staying somewhere in Venice, California and he got shot by somebody.
DH: Huh, no.
MF: And he was involved with a band called Cannibal and the Headhunters, a Mexican band and someone else. No one ever knew who shot him, but he survived, but disappeared. But he had called me up before that incident happened and found out that I had re-copyrighted the songs and he wanted me to give him half of it (laughter). I said you have got to be kidding—you have got a lot of nerve to call me up and tell me you want half after you stole all of it from me and from countless number of bands who had similar stories I heard. So he could have had someone with a grievance against him that shot him. Is this recently that he’s doing these?
DH: it’s been over quite some time. Initially, he even shares something with you on the UFO issue like Area 51, but he’s more in the paranoid area like Illumiati and the behind the scenes groups that run the world. He made a film denying 911 with interviews of Lyndon Larouche and others…
MF: Uh-huh, you said he did something about UFOs and mentioned me in it?
DH: No, I don’t believe he mentioned you (although I haven’t seen it), but his Wikipedia page has a film list and one of them is a UFO film with the focus on Area 51 and there are a lot of other films.
MF: I’ll be darned. Do you think he still lives in the Los Angeles area?
DH: He just might
MF: He probably doesn’t let people know where he’s at.
DH: He looks to be on the paranoid fringe of sorts. Strange character
DH: Speaking of strange, I was glad that your book adds to some of the stories I had heard regarding Jeff Cotton and Captain Beefheart. Because I have also read Bill Harkleroad’s book on that time (during the creation of Trout Mask Replica) and your descriptions mirror that and carry the story further even.
MF: Yeah and John French the drummer wrote one too that got into it. But the Captain, he was a master manipulator, a real control freak and had his girlfriend dosing all the guys in the band with LSD and they really didn’t know. They all thought he had some sort of strange mystical powers because things would happen in the room and they didn’t know they were on LSD. But the story you read (in the book) was after Jeff left them and had gone with me, they kidnapped him and I had to go and have a battle of the brains with Don for four hours to get Jeff out of there. And the only thing too, about Harkleroad that I do have to say as I read that book also; he kind of tries to take credit for a lot of Jeff Cotton’s guitar work. Jeff was actually a much better guitar player then Harkleroad. Harkleroad was kind of stiff and not as fluid and his parts were... eh, kind of soulless where Jeff had more soul to it. I know that he and John French had both tried to interview Jeff Cotton about Beefheart’s band and Jeff wouldn’t do an interview with them. I can understand why, because at one time Don had them all beat him up and like it says in the book and every other day it was a different guy that was ‘fucking the band up’ to use Don’s words. Yeah, he was almost like a Manson character, but he didn’t kill anybody.
DH: Yeah, he kept it short of criminal, but borderline at times. One thing that Harkleroad mentioned, too… and you played with John French, but he at least gave French some credit for bringing some of Beefheart’s musical visions out. Did French show any of these musical skills to you as well as his drumming?
MF: Yeah, yeah John was a fairly decent guy. He played with me in my band the Exiles for a while. Different people would come through the band, in fact I think I wrote how Don (van Vliet) would go over and sit outside of the house in the garage where we rehearsed and had people sneak in and see who was playing what, so he would try to recruit my musicians. Most of the musicians that ended up in Beefheart’s band had played with me before. But John, yeah he was a creative guy. He’s a good drummer, he’s ok, I wouldn’t say he’s outstanding. But his musical ideas and arrangement ideas are really good. He could have probably gone on to become some kind of musical arranger if he wanted to.
DH: Yeah, it sounded that way.
MF: I still communicate with him once in a while. He’ll call me or send and email… he still lives over there in the desert. I’ve tried to get him over here, but it is about 225 miles to the coast where I am at, so I could interview him on my Tiki Lounge TV show.
DH: That would be good. How about another interesting group… Did you ever have any contact with Father Yod and Ya Ho Wa 13? They also ran the Source restaurant, an early vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles.
MF: Yeah, his real name was Jim Baker.
MF: I would go into that restaurant occasionally. I remember seeing him, but was never introduced to him. But when I moved to Maui, a lot of those people had actually moved to Maui and Sky Saxon of the Seeds was one of the people who was in with them. They all had strange names like Liberation T. Aquarius. They were always talking about Father YaHoWa and they even did as you probably know, an obscure album called ‘Ya Ho Wa 13’ and I met a lot more of those people on Maui. But Sky and I had met in 1965 when he was just starting his career. But he ended up on Maui and he told me the story of how they had this flying saucer house in a valley on Oahu. And as you probably know, Jim Baker decided he wanted to go hang gliding, but he didn’t have enough lessons and he crashed and he was all busted up. But rather than take him to a hospital, they took him to the house and put him in a lotus position because they believed he was going to cure himself and he didn’t. He died.
DH: Exactly, You know, three of the band members actually did a tour in recent years and played in Washington DC, maybe six years ago.
MF: No kidding! Do you remember who?
MF: No, no.
DH: I think it was a one shot deal.
MF: Yeah, I never even knew they did that.
DH: I was surprised. I kind of expected you would have some contact with them in LA, especially since you knew Sky Saxon. Was he kind of the classic 1960s character? He seems that way to many of us who didn’t know him.
MF: And he was still like he was in the sixties, you know, smoking pot… After that show as I talk about in the book, he was in his hotel room and his gall bladder ruptured. He didn’t know what happened, but his girlfriend took him to the hospital in San Luis Obispo which is just about 18 miles up the coast here. He almost died and they put him on a ventilator, which he stayed on for ten days. I was up there visiting him and he recovered from that. The rest is in the book with the strange things he did in the hospital. I’m surprised because he was very thin and still doing a lot of things. I think he smoked cigarettes a while, but I guess he succumbed I guess it has been a year or two now.
DH: That’s right, And speaking of people that are no longer with us, I recall you told me in an email about running into Harry Nilsson when he was with John Lennon, but you did not catch them at their worst, which was a stroke of luck.
MF: I caught them right at the beginning of the whole thing. It says in the book how I first met Harry through George Tipton and we both wrote at a little publishing company on Selma and Vine and had to write so many songs a week to get our salary of $75. We would go to coffee shops and do anything we could to get inspiration to write songs. He was sure I was going to have a big gigantic hit way before him and then he ended up getting a job writing for RCA Victor’s publishing company on the 7th floor in the building at Dunbar Publishing. I remember I could look out the window from the second story I was on up where he was in the building and I would go up and visit him every once in a while. He told George and I this story about the Beatles calling him up and he thought it was a prank and he hung up on them (laughter). Every once in a while, I would bump into him when I was over here recording from Maui and I remember one time we exchange phone numbers and George Tipton and I kept in contact quite a bit—his arranger who did ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ and he knew I was going to be in town and he called and said he was giving a party and that was when I was working on ‘Calling from a Star’ with Joe Klein. I went over there and walked in the room and to my surprise there was John Lennon sitting there amongst the people.
MF: Oh yeah, Ed was just a sweetheart. We were such good friends, we met in 1969… I think it was the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It was one of those things where there were five or six bands on the bill. We said hi and nothing ever happened until 1991 again. He heard that I was doing California Music (TV show) and got in touch through an agent we both had. I had him on the show and then I had Randy (California) on the show and Cass said hey, why don’t we record something together, since Spirit wasn’t playing a whole lot then. It had slowed down, so he and I did a few concerts together. And I had a studio in my house and so we started to work on something—he wanted to do something in a blues rock vein, so it took us 4-5 months or maybe a little more and we cranked out ‘On the Blue Road’ which had a few standards that he wanted to do and some other songs I wrote. And D-Town Records picked that up right away and put it out. Then much later, oh gosh, around ’98 I think it was, we decided to record another album and it had more original songs. A label in Italy picked that up, Comet Records. They even put it out on vinyl with a beautiful gatefold cover and lots of pictures. Cass and I had been playing all that time. And I played on some stuff that Randy was doing on a label called Evangeline. I think the album was called ‘California Blues’ and I even recorded some of Cass’s drums for that album and did some slide and bass on it. By the time it came out, I never got any credit, but that’s ok. They had sent me tapes and I recorded parts on them and sent them back, but they probably forgot. We were all supposed to go to Paris and do a tour as we were all on the same label, Legend Music. And that was when Randy (California) went on a vacation to Hawaii and drowned, so we never went.
DH: That was definitely a shocker. I remember that when it happened.
MF: It was a big shock when Cass died, too, which has been just a couple of years ago. He was still playing up until he was about 88. He would do a session with me—he’s even on a surf album I did ‘Rockin and Surfing’, I think it is Volume 3. I have done 4 volumes because DJs kept wanting me to do instrumental surf. I think it was a song called ‘Out on the Town’ that he and I wrote and I think that was the last thing he recorded. Then he actually got prostrate cancer, which is what he died of.
DH: How about other guitarists you played with? You mentioned Jeff Cotton earlier and are any other names of those that were extremely talented or unique?
MF: Well I think John Cipollina of Quicksilver was very talented and very different.
DH: Oh, yes.
MF; And he and he and Jeff Cotton had a similar style, although Jeff Cotton’s slide playing is really unique. He learned the style of the old blues players and the finger picking style of slide and put his own thing into it. You know, he was my guitar student—I met him when he was 14 and started teaching him chords and lead parts to my surf tunes when I moved over to the desert where he was living around the end of 1963. Yeah, he and Cipollina were two guys that I would consider to be great guitar players and very unique. It is a shame that John is gone now—he died. And Jeff went into this sort of religious thing where he felt that the music business was the devil’s workshop and wouldn’t play anymore. I kept trying to tell him it is a God-given talent and you should at least keep playing in some form, but of all things he moved to Bellingham, Washington which is so different than Hawaii and he met his wife in Hawaii. For a while, he was a window cleaner and then he started repairing and installing ATM machines. And that is the last I heard of what he is doing.
DH: Ahh, yes, well even if you can’t make a major business out of it, there are plenty of Christians and people of all religions using music to better everybody.
MF: Exactly. And there have been various other guitarists that I have jammed with, but David, I can’t even remember them all. In fact, when I read the book, through proofreading, it is like someone else wrote the book and I’m like, ‘my God, I did all this!’
DH: Yeah, and don’t worry too much about the mistakes. I’ve had friends write books and they didn’t get the small facts exactly right on some things I was personally a part of, but it didn’t hurt the story any.
MF: The guy who was doing the editing at the publishers in the UK was dropping sentences, he was dropping paragraphs, and even in a few places he put things in that never happened. So someone said he was probably just losing things in the computer because I sent him a disc, you know. I had to do a lot of correcting and taking a month for the last correction. Sometimes my description of where it should go in the book was put in (laughter). But it’s fairly accurate now, with just a couple of misspellings, one spot where they misspelled Nilsson’s last name and Cipollina and more.
DH: Easy to do. Now…. Hawaii. I am not sure any band can ‘make it’ as a very hard working professional band based out of Hawaii, but you were there so long, so am I right that it was more of a spiritual journey or better for you as a person? What was the interaction between music and life?
MF: Yeah, well I do feel it was a spiritual journey and I do feel that the music I wrote was really purely inspired. My 1976 Maui album that I did after MU broke up and some people have said it was the purest inspiration of the hippie dream of peace of love. It just changed the whole feeling of everything because when you are living in LA, you are into like psychedelic blues and things and when we got there, it just went into a whole other dimension. I’m glad that I did experience that. But you are right—there are not even that many clubs to play on Maui and it is even worse now, with DJs taking over. Mick Fleetwood owns a restaurant there and once a month, he’ll have someone play in there or he’ll even sit in with somebody. MU was lucky to do a few concerts, but when we moved there, there had only been a few concerts on the whole island. Jimi Hendrix filmed the movie ‘Rainbow Bridge’ there in 1970. We went back a few years ago and interviewed a lot of people that were in the movie as ‘Rainbow Bridge Revisited’ and we did a soundtrack. That was interesting. But up until that point, the only other band that had played there was Crazy Horse without Neil Young. So when MU did that concert, it was a sell-out. We filled a 3,000 seat auditorium that was newly built. Then we played with Mary Lee, the violinist in my band, an outdoor concert in a little amphitheater there with Toots and the Maytals, a reggae group. So to try to support yourself by music there, unless you play Hawaiian music and you play in a hotel on a regular basis, is very difficult. We actually played more as a duo with me and Mary—we got a job at a restaurant in town and had a weekly gig in the seventies which was good. Maybe every 3-4 months, some name band would come to the islands and every little band on the island would try to get the opening spot, you know.
DH: Of course.
MF: But it was good for song writing and I’m glad I went there and lived there for as long as I did.
DH: I can kind of hear that in listening to MU and the Maui album, although it helps to hear or read the story. Also, as you went on from that, at maybe about the time of Dr. Fankhauser, you found you had become a collector’s item with older albums selling for thousands of dollars. Was this more frustrating for you or amusing?
MF: Well, I think it was amusing. It wasn’t frustrating as I was glad that someone valued my music that highly and it was close to the end of the seventies when two German record collectors and a guy that owns a record store in Germany who is fairly well known, Hans Kesteloo, came over and found me in my little two-story jungle cabin (on Maui) I built and they were the first ones and said yeah, we bought your Fapardokly album for only $600 at a record fair in Berlin and I went, What, say that again. He was the first one that told me of the value of that album. It was an album recorded in a little Glenn record studio that had John French and a lot of those musicians that went on to play with Beefheart and other bands in the desert. I went back to California and asked for my Mother as I knew she had a few of those albums left. There were six of them in the closet and they were all sealed. I sold every one of them for a thousand dollars a copy and a guy from Norway even gave me $1,200 for one. I said you sent me too much and he said oh no, I’m very glad to pay it and have this. So I could not believe it, David, I never made any royalties off of that album and then years later, I ended up getting $6,200 from some I had stashed in a closet.
DH: Geeze, you are lucky you had that. I have talked to some band members who had nothing and I then felt guilty because I had one or two copies of their early works. That’s good and now on to a question I ask everyone I talk to. Is there an artist either now or when you were younger who is NOT involved with music, but from movies, literature, or the arts to be a very big influence or someone important to you?
MF: Oh boy… artist or literature, well gosh, that’s a good question (laughs). Well, there’s movie producer, William E. McEuen who discovered Steve Martin and produced a bunch of his movies.
DH: Ooooh, right—related to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band McEuen?
MF: Yes, that is his brother John. And Bill managed the Dirt Band and recorded them. Well, I met him around 1981 and he wanted to do an album with me then and I was still living in Maui and he was living way up in Aspen. Finally, we got together around 1991 and started to working on my ‘Return to MU’ album which I consider to be one of the best I have done. I told him the whole story of the lost continent of MU and the lost ruins I found on the island that no one seemed to know what they were, so he produced the whole album and wanted to go for a trilogy of three albums. He had so many million sellers with Warner Brothers and he was selling it in 1992 when it was done, but everybody he knew at Warner Brothers had left the label including Mo Austin, the head of the label. So we didn’t get that deal but we got a deal with Sundazed, a big independent label in New York , along with a German label and a Japanese label. And now Gonzo Multi-Media, the label I am on in the UK, just put it out about a year ago with the one hour documentary on a DVD.
MF: What I’m trying to say is Bill McEuen has inspired me and influenced me a lot by just his way of doing things and his artistic eye of shooting things-both stills and videos, is really good. I mean there are so many actors that I like that I met. I was friends with Gary Busey before he really got big, in a band called Carp from Oklahoma. I met him when he moved out to California in the sixties, before he got any acting jobs. So there has been so many people. Interestingly enough, the author Thomas Pynchon who wrote the book ‘Inherent Vice’ and he mentions my band Fapordokly with one of the songs in the book. This detective is driving back to LA and he talks about the song coming over the radio and I still haven’t seen the movie and I’m wondering if they kept that part of the scene and if my song is in it, but also more intersting than that, is that in the middle of the book this guy is interviewing surfers along the beach as he’s trying to find out about this land developer that was kidnapped—I don’t know if you’ve read any of this or seen the movie.
DH: Not this particular Pynchon book, no.
MF: Well, he’s talking to people on the beach and he’s talking about this ship called the Golden Fang that was seen coming in and out of the fog at night, thinking that has something to do with what happened to this guy. So this one surfer says you need to go talk to that guy that looks like Jesus. So he says as I’m walking over there, I out of my left ear, hear two surfers arguing which version of Wipe-Out came first, the one with the giggle or the one without. The one without was our version.
DH: That’s right, yeah!
MF: I’m going what the heck, who is this guy? And how does he know all this? And my drummer first found the book and also someone New York called me and said I was in the New Yorker magazine, it was a review. So that completely threw me. Then when he talks to this surfer, he’s explaining that he goes out there surfing, then about the Golden Fang thing and then he says I’ve found the ruins to the lost continent of MU, they are under the water there and I just went WHAT the HECK. Then the detective is talking about his girlfriend that has gone missing and moved to Maui and she’s living in the town of Pukalani, which is where my ex, the fiddle player lives now. And he’s talking about some surfer musician who found ruins over there. Well, I ended up finding two film guys, one a producer and the other a cinematographer, who visited with Thomas Pynchon in San Francisco, and he’s a record collector and loves vinyl and he has a bunch of my records and he’s obviously looked me up. One of the guys said he had seen me play in a club called Itchy-Foot Moe’s in Redondo Beach in 1968, so that kind of solved it all in my mind. But the other odd thing is a friend of mine found there was a reproduction of the book cover on sale at a place where they can print them on canvas. So he ordered me one for my birthday a few years ago and he had to send his order to Kula, Maui (laughs). So I don’t know all this stuff is connected, you know, but it is.
DH: Yes, I enjoy connections, and you probably have more than most.
MF: And then the latest, you’ve probably heard, this Signals from Malibu thing that I recorded.
DH: Oh yeah, I have.
DH: Connections are amazing and it helps if you get out like you do and experience so many different people. So how do we follow you beyond the web site and book… how about the TV shows, is that Los Angeles only?
MF: I was on in Ann Arbor and Battle Creek, Michigan for a number of years, but I think they shut that station down. That is what is happening to a lot of public broadcasting stations are losing their government funding. But I’m on from Salinas to Santa Barbara on two channels covering the central California coast. And I’m on all over Hawaii and there are select shows on Youtube, maybe three or four. I will put more up there. And Gonzo Multimedia put 50 shows up on the Internet for PPV. I’ve been doing the show for 14 years now.
MF: I am getting ready in April to do the 100th show. I’ve had everyone from Canned Heat to guys from Jefferson Starship, Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean, Willie Nelson, Mary Ramsey from 10,000 Maniacs, all of Spirit, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, quite a list.
DH: I will make sure to include links because anyone who has not followed your career, ought to. There are different eras, but your style whether it be surf, spacey folk, or rock music is all pretty recognizably yours.
MF: That’s what happened in the late sixties and beyond, various labels released things in Europe and in various places… I thought I had about 40 releases, but this Dutch musicologist tracking 45s and bootleg CDs, it is way over a hundred recordings. He’s done a discography book on me now.
DH: Wow, I know quite a few European record collectors, and of course some here too, who do an amazing job at compiling information like that. It is amazing the detail they come up with. And with he web, you can track things down so much more easily.
MF: Yeah really. Negotiating record deals—I used to have to send it in the mail in two week and get contracts back and send parts, masters, art work…. it used to take months, now I can do it in a couple of weeks.
DH: Good, good. And you’re still healthy as a guitar player and whatnot?
MF: Yeah, I still play and I have a stage here that I built at the Tiki Lounge and the backyard is all very tropical looking. In fact when I was on Maui in March, a guy came up and thought I was still doing the show out in the jungle by Hana. I said no, I do it on the mainland in California. And he said noon, man you’re poooshing my leg, brahh (laughter). I even have met people here that see the show and they think it’s coming from Hawaii. And I’m having a lot of fun doing that. The weather is pretty good much of the time and in April it gets really warm, so just about every month we have someone on the stage and we film them.
DH: Well great. Thanks for all the great information here.
MF: Well I am glad to talk to you, David.