Friday, 16 February 2018

The CREEM Story: Editor J. Kordosh Talks About The Golden Years Of "America's Only Rock 'N' Roll Magazine"

The members of KISS enjoy some Boy Howdy! beer. 
Photo: Charles Auringer
Originally published in American Music Press, 1993

By Devorah Ostrov

Before we begin, let's get something straight: the Creem magazine which will shortly be so reverently praised is NOT the stupefyingly dull Creem magazine available at newsstands these days. The only things they share are the name and the Boy Howdy! mascot.

Creem magazine - the real one - is now a part of rock history, worshipped for its brilliant writing and witty satire, which often approached absolute genius. Perhaps it seems strange to imbue a magazine with human characteristics, but Creem was much more than just a 'zine - it had a personality, and it is very much missed by those of us who grew up reading it.

Throughout the '70s and '80s Creem arrogantly billed itself as "America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine," and it pissed people off (mostly record companies and bands, but also quite a few music fans) by blatantly suggesting the writers were more interesting than the musicians they wrote about - which was always true.

The Rolling Stones
Creem magazine - January 1973
Forever irreverent, Creem refused to take rock 'n' roll or its superstars seriously. For instance, it was the only music magazine whimsical enough to question the need for those four loveable moptops from Liverpool:

"About the only thing they revolutionized was haircuts. Sure they set the whole country on its ear for awhile, but if it hadn't been them, it would have been somebody else half an hour later. We think Carpentermania or the whole human race going deaf would've been just as good, don't you?" -- Who Needs The Beatles? Rick Johnson & J. Kordosh, April 1983

Or at the height of Depeche Mode's career, fabricate funny, but unlikely, answers to an interview with Alan Wilder:

"Why are we so popular now? Beats me! We're just churning out more of the same gray pablum. Maybe the harmful rays burning through the ozone have started to affect people's minds." -- Spreading A Pack Of Lies About Depeche Mode, Or New Ways To Have Fun, Jon Young, April 1988

J. (John) Kordosh began writing for Creem as a freelance contributor in 1980 before he joined the editorial team under Susan Whitall, Dave DiMartino and Bill Holdship. When Whitall and DeMartino left the magazine, he and Holdship became its co-editors.

Creem magazine - February 1981
Over the phone from his Southern California home, Kordosh is candid about what drew him to the magazine. "I got into it because I wanted to trash bands," he asserts. "I thought there was a lot of junk out there. I honestly don't like music unless I can find something funny about it."

Kordosh's wacko sense of humor fit in perfectly at Creem, and he merrily went about poking fun at the high and mighty.

"I think the story I did on Howard Jones was my favorite one because he was absolutely livid! Although, I guess my most infamous story was the one I wrote about Rush. After the story was published, Rush never spoke to anyone from Creem again."

"The best thing that can be said about these musicians-by-innuendo is that Alex Lifeson is a competent post-Page guitarist. Geddy Lee, who played - excuse me, strapped on - a double necked bass during one song, plays with all the gusto of a teenaged girl who's thinking about giving up ballet lessons for punk rock. And Neil Peart can hide behind every triangle, gong, bell, empty paint can, and any other percussion instrument he can think of - adults will prefer one good wallop from Charlie Watts from now until 2112. Wait a minute, I forgot that Geddy Lee is also the group's vocalist. At least, I wanted to." -- Rush: But Why Are They In Such A Hurry? J. Kordosh, June 1981

The following extracts are taken from some of this writer's personal faves in the Kordosh collection. Firstly, his intro to an article about religious rockers Stryper...

The Go-Go's are the Creem Dreem
"And a crowd did gather outside a great hall in El Paso, but not to hear of Stryper, but to rebuke them mightily with picket and bullhorn. For, yea, they were believers and sore afraid of Stryper. And so it happened that one of Stryper's money-handlers spake unto the crowd, 'Be not afraid of this sound, for it shall not harm you, no, not the least among you. In fact, the show's on us, come on in for free.' Or something like that. But their ears were like stone and they heard him not, and not one did enter unto that hall. Kordoshians, 13:1-19" -- Stryper: The Newest Testament Yet! J. Kordosh, June 1986

And I particularly love this awkward exchange with Culture Club's Boy George...

Iggy Pop
Creem magazine - April 1974
"'But you do look kind of feminine. Right?" I added, just on the off-chance I was wrong.
'Yeah, I suppose so.'
Good supposing there.
'Do you want to talk about it?' (This is what's known as loading the pistol.)
'Yeah we can talk about it. We can talk about whatever you want.' (Bullseye!)
'OK, are you a homosexual?'
'Are you a transvestite?'
Hmmm, what does that leave... 'Are you nice to your parents?'" -- Culture Clubbing With George And The Boys, J. Kordosh, June 1983

Then there was his fabulous assessment of the new Styx LP...

"Well, there's your latest Styx boombah. Yeah, the old cockaroach in the spaghetti, the aggravating little concept album. Even though this plot is so thin you'll need a micrometer to measure it, Styx - everybody's favorite imaginary band - manages to screw it up. There's really no doubt that these clowns would be over their heads in a teacup, let alone trying to grapple with big-league issues like no mo' rock. They're so insecure about their so-called idea that they've included a written history of the Kilroy saga, just in case you have as little imagination as they do." -- Kilroy Was Here, J. Kordosh, June 1983

And his "non-interview" with Dire Straits in the February 1981 issue was responsible for one of my all-time favorite headlines...

Creem's Profiles - Patti Smith
December 1976
"Nine Or Ten Unbelievably Interesting Facts About Dire Straits Plus The Usual Unsubstantiated Opinions, Speculations, and Outright Inventions"

Never mind the musicians, what did Creem's serious and staid competitors - Hit Parader, Rolling Stone, Circus - make of all this rampant silliness?

"They thought we were pompous twits," says Kordosh. "Either that or we were crazy, or on drugs, or some combination of those. All of us liked music a lot, we just didn't care that much about it. Everyone thinks they've got to treat this like they're honest to God reviewing the works of Mark Twain, or something. This stuff is disposable. It comes and it goes. For people to sit around and pontificate about it... I've never understood that."

Kordosh continues, "One thing we all believed - all the editors - was that we honestly had the best writers of any rock magazine in the United States, and some of them were really weird guys too. Richard Walls, and I'm speaking literally here, won't leave his house. But he's a brilliant writer!"

Kordosh also speaks fondly of John Mendelssohn (even though Mendelssohn always made it a point to refer to Creem with the wonderfully snarky comment: "America's only rock 'n' roll magazine that bills itself as such"), saying he was a "real character."

Tom Petty 
Creem magazine - April 1983
"But at least one member of the Forum audience that night - the one in the orange velour tie - was old enough to have been a Kinks fan from the night during Christmas vacation in 1964 when 'You Really Got Me' got him so excited when it came on his car radio for the first time that he nearly made a complete mess of one of lower Sunset Blvd.'s more treacherous curves, and consequently nearly didn't: report back for the rest of his senior year, graduate without honours (how could he continue to overachieve in the classrooms of his high school when there was a British invasion raging outside?), and grow up to be the rock critic the West Coast most loved to loathe. For that old chap, who'd adored the Kinks for seven of the best years of his life (and who, in his thirties, had developed a penchant for the melodramatic turn of phrase), the concert was sort of the Altamont of the soul." -- The Kinks: A Sad Kommentary, John Mendelssohn, August 1983.

Without a doubt though, the biggest character ever employed by Creem was Lester Bangs. Bangs began his journalism career at Rolling Stone with a negative review of the MC5's Kick Out the Jams album (April 5, 1969). More than a hundred and fifty reviews later, Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner banned him from the magazine for "disrespect toward musicians."

It was at Creem, where Bangs worked for five years as head staff writer and in various editorial capacities, that he found his audience and well-deserved fame. Five years after his death in 1982 (due to an accidental overdose of cough medicine, Valium and NyQuil), a selection of his work was edited by Greil Marcus and published under the title Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung.

Slade drink Boy Howdy! beer.
Photo: Charles Auringer
In the introduction to the book, Bangs winds up a humorously bombastic description of himself by declaring he's "...a contender if not now then tomorrow for the title Best Writer In America (who was better? Bukowski? Burroughs? Hunter Thompson? Gimmie a break. I was the best. I wrote almost nothing but record reviews, and not many of those...") Sadly, he never finished filling in the parenthesis.

"Perhaps," notes Greil Marcus, "what this book demands from a reader is a willingness to accept that the best writer in America could write almost nothing but record reviews."

Alice Cooper's Alcohol Cookbook
Creem magazine - June 1973
For me, personally, it was this New York Dolls record review that summed up Bangs' absolute genius for wordplay...

"The Dolls are a load of raggle clatter and they know it and spit it right back in your face whistling like twisto bastard Terry-Thomas progeny thru gapbuck front teeth: NYAAA! They ain't the Stones and they can't play for much past prattle but who gives a whackdoodle so stop making claims that'll blotch your mugs come uppance morn." -- Too Much Too Soon, Lester Bangs, July 1974

But Bangs wrote much more than just record reviews, and I hope you'll enjoy the following extracts from a few of his most memorable articles as much as I do.

In this first passage, Bangs recounts the night he joined the J. Geils Band on lead typewriter at Detroit's Cobo Hall...

"It was at that point that I realized the absolute ludicrousness of what I was now doing before a packed house of umpteen thousand sneering peers. The first decision I had to make was whether to treat it as a total joke and just peck at the thing desultorily, or really get into the funky bloozy woozies and try to peck along in rhythm. Hell, they had it miked, I started trying to play on the beat, grinning and nodding at the rest of the group who grinned and nodded back as the peanut galleries gawked, hawked and kfweed. The writing was coming out great too: 'VDKHEOQSNCHSHNELXIEN(&H-SXN(E@JN?)' ... I even threw in a bit of Townsend/Alice Cooper destructo theatre: for the song's climax I stood up and kicked over the typewriter, bench and all. Then I jumped up and down on it till I smashed it to bits, or two of them at least. It felt good, purging somehow." -- My Night Of Ecstasy With The J. Geils Band, Lester Bangs, August 1974

Creem readers famously voted the New
York Dolls the best new group of 1973
and the worst new group of 1973.
His encounter with a cantankerous Lou Reed in a hotel restaurant is another legend of rock journalism...

"He's sitting there vibing away in his black T-shirt and shades, scowling like a house whose fire has just been put out, muttering to himself as he picked desultorily at indistinct clods of food on his plate: 'Goddam fucking place...what a shithole...dump...fucking nerve...assholes...' Turned out he'd been refused entrance to Trader Vic's because of the way he was dressed, and he was fuming about it. I walk up, shake hands: 'Hi Lou...I believe you remember me.' Dead cold fish handshake. 'Unfortunately.' Just sat there. Didn't move. Didn't smile. Didn't even sneer. Concrete scowl. Solid veneer, with cement behind that." -- Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves, Lester Bangs, March 1975

My favorite Bangsian philosophy comes towards the end of the Count Five piece which gave its title to the collection of Lester's writing mentioned above. Originally printed in the June 1971 issue of Creem, "Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung" starts off as a historic look at the Yardbirds, but as he often did, Bangs soon veered off in a completely different direction.

Not content with just the one album actually released by the Yardbirds US cousins Count Five, Bangs raves for paragraphs about several other LPs by the band - albums with titles like Snowflakes Falling on the International Dateline, Ancient Lace and Wrought-Iron Railings and, of course, Carburetor Dung (supposedly the only Count Five album to fall totally flat).  In the end, he fesses up: "I'm given to fabrication of albums sometimes, like if I wish a certain album existed and it doesn't I just make it up."

"Super Punk" Johnny Rotten
Creem magazine - April 1978
"There's no question that Bangs gave Creem a lot of credibility," says Kordosh, who was an avid reader of Bangs' stuff when he himself was "quote, learning to write."

"Some of his stuff was absolutely phenomenal!" Kordosh enthuses. "I didn't care who he was writing about, I just wanted to read it 'cause the guy was brilliant. Had Bangs lived I don't think he still would have been a rock writer, but I think he would've been a great writer."

Founded by Barry Kramer, the owner of Detroit record store Full Circle, the first issue of Creem was published in March 1969. Tony Reay, a clerk at the record store, was the magazine's first editor. Reay supposedly named the 'zine after his favorite band (with a slight tweak to the spelling).

Its earliest issues weren't much more than a Detroit-centric counterculture newspaper, which covered ecology and politics with as much keenness as music. Kramer laid the foundation in issue #1, stating: "Creem Magazine is Detroit. Creem will provide a forum for the diverse areas of our 'scene' to communicate and consolidate. This paper is devoted to media with the emphasis on music and the people that live it - you. Detroit is home to many creative artists, and for a reason. We are real, receptive and quite selective."

"At first it was like hippy-dippy days," chuckles Kordosh. "Instead of a staff box, they had a 'cast of characters' - people with names like Flower! [Dave] Marsh was the first real heavyweight editor."

Stars Cars No. 49 - Robin Zander of Cheap Trick
Marsh was only 19 years old when he joined the Creem staff during its formative first year, and while he would later disapprove of the magazine's amusingly unconventional style of journalism (according to Kordosh, Marsh once stated that "the whole idea of Creem wasn't funny anymore because Lester had died, and he'd died because of drugs"), it was under his direction that many much-loved regular features and departments were developed.

Creem Profiles: A parody of the Dewar's whisky adverts in which a band/musician posed with Boy Howdy! beer cans and the editors answered questions for them using silly puns. "Every band in the world, no matter what they thought about the magazine, wanted to do the Boy Howdy! profile," says Kordosh. "The list of people who did those is incredible. If there was one thing that bands knew about Creem, it was the stupid beer cans!"

Debbie Harry
Creem magazine - August 1982
As an afterthought he asks, "You realize there never was Boy Howdy! beer? It's funny how many people thought there was!"

Eleganza: Originally penned by rock doyen Lisa Robinson, this monthly column focused on the stylish side of the music business. "Freddie Mercury wore the usual skin tight satin trousers at the Beacon Theater and dressed to the left," she pointed out in January 1977. "Despite his album cover Ian Hunter wore sunglasses to Queen's party at Le Paulillaier. Rod Stewart wore the usual smirk, Britt Eklund the usual pout, to the Pretty Things' L.A. party. Bowie wore that ho-hum black and white and Iggy's hair was unnaturally blonde."

Beginning with Creem's July 1983 issue, John Mendelssohn's byline replaced Lisa Robinson's, and he quickly made Eleganza his own. "It was supposed to be about fashion," recalled Mendelssohn in his 1995 autobiography I, Caramba, "but I got bored with that halfway through my second column, and began devoting the space to rabid denunciations of Motley Crue..."

Letters to the Editor: "There's such a feeling of satisfaction in letting somebody make a complete jerk of themselves and then giving it a real terse one-line comment," notes Kordosh. Headed "Ridiculous Request," a letter in the July 1985 issue from Ben Shirer in La Jolla, California, is a case in point:

An early Creem cover featured "Mr. Dream
Whip" artwork by R. Crumb. He also
designed the Boy Howdy! logo.
"I hate rock critics who say Madonna has terrible music and say she's sex for sale. Some people have heard albums of hers and hate them (at least they heard them), but the others are up to their necks in shit. They should listen to the albums, then decide."

"What, to kill themselves?" bluntly replied the Ed.

"There was never once a made-up letter in Creem," adds Kordosh, in case anyone questioned whether the team of RR & AR actually wrote: "How the hell can you call Led Zeppelin satin worshippers?"

Photo Captions: "We used to talk about photo captions more than anything else," laughs Kordosh. "We actually got some really esoteric concepts going. We developed alternate worlds where captions were occurring, and we had had a string of characters - the farmer and the cowman... Binky, Bobo and Fifi...

"We often had people looking for potatoes..." he continues. "A picture of U2 just flashed in my mind... God did we hate U2! It was a promo still for the Joshua Tree album where they're walking in a field. I remember the caption said: 'Where the heck are those potatoes?'

"We'd really get into what was the proper word to italicize within quotes, where to put the emphasis. I had one where there was a picture of some Boy Howdy! beer cans and the caption was: 'Wait, we're beer cans. We can't talk!' I italicized the word 'beer' as if other types of cans could talk!"

Gilda Radner poses in a Boy Howdy! tank top in
this 1980 advert for Creem t-shirts.
Although its HQ was originally based in Detroit, for awhile the 1970s Creem staff lived communally at a large farm in Walled Lake, Michigan, until offices were rented in Birmingham. And it was there, during the mid-'80s when the editorial staff consisted of Kordosh, DiMartino and Holdship (who now edits the Southern California edition of BAM) that Kordosh terms the magazine's "golden years."

"To me, that was the last great editorial staff," he states. "In fact, I think it might have been the strongest editorial staff Creem ever had. Not to take anything away from Lester, but I don't think he had as many good people around him as we did."

Siouxsie Sioux is the Creem Dreem
Alas and alack the good times were not to last. When the 1980s ended so did "America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine."

One might have sensed there was trouble afoot when new publisher Arnold Levitt (who bought the rights to Creem in 1986, following Barry Kramer's death) pulled up the 'zine's Midwestern roots and in early '87 moved the offices to Los Angeles.

"After we got out here the magazine just wasn't doing well," laments Kordosh. "Our publisher cut our budget, and he was leaning all over us about what acts we could put in the magazine. He would come in and say, 'We need to put Madonna on the cover. We need to put U2 on the cover.'"

Creem's last-gasp issues, short on humor in a grab at respectability, lost its devoted readers - and apparently there weren't that many of us to begin with. "It's amazing how few people really bought Creem," mentions Kordosh. "Seriously enough, we used to sit around wondering, 'Who the hell's buying this thing?' Especially towards the end. We really wondered, 'Is there a point to doing this?'"

In 1989 the plug was pulled financially. "It wasn't making any money," says Kordosh. "For some reason, the national psyche is such that it will not accept a magazine like Creem."

Creem's Profiles - The Bangles
Kordosh compares Creem's dilemma to a statement by Kinks' frontman Ray Davies, who once said: "At the time we were more unpopular than the Beatles and the Stones."

"Not that the Kinks were less popular," Kordosh explains, "they were more unpopular - as if they were all unpopular, but the Kinks were the most unpopular! I think Creem was more unpopular than other magazines!"

But there was yet one more round to come. In August 1990, an upscale and oversized magazine calling itself Creem hit the newsstands. The first issue featured a sneering Billy Idol on its glossy cover, but there wasn't a trace of fun within its pretty pages.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times (September 30, 1990), Marvin Jarrett - an entrepreneur and former stereo salesman with no publishing experience - purchased the rights to the name and the Boy Howdy! mascot from Levitt.

"It's the '90s," Jarrett told the Times, "and this magazine has to change. You and I might have been sarcastic kids when we were 15, and Creem was great for that in its peak. But we're not sarcastic kids anymore."

U2 are the band of the year.
Creem magazine - May 1986
Both Kordosh and Holdship said "no thanks" to editorship of the new Creem, which is now based in New York.

"Marvin is totally anti-caption and anti-humor," spits Kordosh. "His idea of Creem is to put Phil Collins on the cover. We told him, 'If you want a magazine why don't you just start it with a different name? Why use Creem?'

"I told him, 'You're gonna get the worst of both worlds. One, there's a lot of people out there who hated Creem, so they're not gonna buy it. Two, the people that do buy it are gonna hate it 'cause it's not Creem. It's gonna look more like Rolling Stone to them. So, you're going to lose everybody.'"

Kordosh concludes: "I'm not real sanguine about the possibilities there."

* * *

You can find out more about Creem magazine by following its Facebook page here.

And get the latest news about the documentary-in-progress Boy Howdy: The Story of Creem Magazine by following its Facebook page here.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

What's The Strangest Thing You've Ever Done To Get In Free To A Rock Concert?

The Babysitters (L-R): Buttz, Stik, Boo and Jimbo
Originally published in Rave-Up #15 (1988)

We asked Babysitters' guitarist Jimbo Kaksov:

What's The Strangest Thing You've Ever Done To Get In Free To A Rock Concert?

"I'd like to go back a couple of years to a night out with me and Ian [Mitchell, former Bay City Roller] before the disappearance of Boo [Badu, Babysitters' bassist] and Ian joining the band.

Picture a cold November night in London and a couple of inebriated souls headed for Lord Lindley's place, only to find when getting there someone had left a sheep in his front garden.

The Babysitters strike a pose.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Remembering about the free beer and food at the G. Michael party, we hastily picked up the animal and left for Legends. Upon reaching our destination and the security guards, our drunken state led us to think they would believe our story.

We told them we were from Intersheep (a worldwide sheep delivery service) and we had to deliver this woolly to Winston the bass player, as a joke from the rest of the band.

Now, would you believe there was such a thing as a sheep delivery service? No! Neither did they. Except for one big security guard who insisted that his brother-in-law had once worked for them. In we go!

What we did with the sheep is another story."

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Dirty Strangers: They're Just A Real Good Rock 'N' Roll Band From Shepherd's Bush!

The Dirty Strangers
Photo: Sara Brinker
The Dirty Strangers were like a bunch of big brothers to me and Rave-Up photographer Sara Brinker during our 1986 London holiday. They became very special to us and we hoped that readers of our 'zine back home would feel the same way.

Originally published in Rave-Up #10, 1986

Interview by Devorah Ostrov
Photos by Sara Brinker & Devorah Ostrov

Brian James, guitarist for Lords of the New Church, and a man whose opinion we highly value at Rave-Up HQ, recommended that Sara and I see the Dirty Strangers while we were in London. And he proved to be right - we fell in love with the Dirty Strangers' sweaty, unpretentious, good-time brand of rock 'n' roll!

Basically, the Dirty Strangers are a band of working-class guys from the Shepherd's Bush section of London. They've been playing their hearts out to anyone who'll listen for the last four years, and hopefully they'll never change or stop!

Crime And A Woman - the fourth album from the Dirty Strangers
Released 2016
Q: So, how would you guys describe the Dirty Strangers' sound?

Alastair: We're just a real good rock 'n' roll band. Let people draw their own conclusions, really.

Q: Do you think there's a lack of "real" rock 'n' roll bands in London at the moment?

Alan Clayton
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Alastair: There's a lot of rock 'n' roll bands, but I mean...

Alan: We're the best!

Alastair: Yeah, well... That's it, isn't it? Without sounding sort of, uhmm... Y'know what I mean?

Scotty: Rock 'n' roll has been unfashionable recently, but I think it's going to come back because there's no pretence about it. Nobody's trying to give you a message or be political. It's just for people to enjoy. We get up onstage and have a good time. And the crowd have a good time. That's all we really want. And I think it's gonna pay off. Well, I hope it does!

Q: Have you had a hard time getting your style across to record companies?

Everyone: Very hard!!!

Alastair Symons
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Scotty: They don't want to know about us.

Alastair: I think they also realize that it would be very difficult for them to try to change us in any way. We are pretty resolute in what we do.

Alan: We've had A&R people say that they really like us and want to sign us, but every time that it gets back to the company, it gets blocked. They don't see us as a marketable product.

Q: I know you're working on an independent EP. What songs are going to be on it?

Alan: "Survival Dance," "Hands Up," "Are You Satisfied?" and a live version of "Shepherd's Bush City Limits."

Alastair: You might have heard that tune before.

Q: Yeah, but when we heard it we were saying, "Wait a minute, that doesn't sound right. It's supposed to be something else."

Advert for the Dirty Strangers debut LP
with special guests Keith Richards & Ron Wood.
Scotty: Yeah, well... it is, but we added our own words.

Q: And I've heard that Radio 1 is going to be recording you guys.

Alan: We're doing a session called "The Rock Show." We're doing five or six songs.

Alastair Symons & Brian James in SF
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Scotty: It's the first time we've been on the radio. It might change a few people's minds, y'know.

Alastair: I'm glad as well, 'cause there's people up north [Northern England] who are into rock 'n' roll and they deserve to at least know that there's a band in London playing rock 'n' roll.

Scotty: Half of Europe... nearly all of Europe gets Radio 1, so potentially it could be a very big audience.

Q: Is it true that the Rolling Stones are big fans of the Dirty Strangers?

Alastair: I'll tell you what, Keith Richards told us he was gonna sign us to Rolling Stone Records, but at the time something went wrong... I dunno. Anyway, he really likes us. He thinks we're the best band in Britain.

Alan: When the Rolling Stones played Wembley one of them had a Dirty Strangers t-shirt on! We get accused of being like the Stones in a way, but it's never been intentional and our songwriting has never gone in that direction. But it's the nearest thing that people can hang on us, y'know. There's only been one really good rock 'n' roll band up to now - the Rolling Stones. They really cornered the market. So, that's the nearest tag people can put on us. But Keith don't think we're like them and I mean, he should know!

Alan Clayton
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Scotty: Rod Stewart and the Faces is the other comparison we get.

Alan: A lot of people try to conjure up an image that they want people to copy - which a lot of people do. But we don't force anyone to copy us. The only reason [our fans] go out is to be entertained, and that's what music is for. And we come from Shepherd's Bush - the home of rock 'n' roll! The Who, the Sex Pistols, and us!

For more information about the Dirty Strangers, please visit their website at:

And please enjoy this video for "Shepherd's Bush City Limits"...

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Count Five: The Story Behind The One-Hit Wonder Garage Rock Band From San Jose Who Created "Psychotic Reaction"

Psychotic Reaction LP - Double Shot (1966)
Originally published as a three-part interview in Rave-Up issues 8, 9 & 10
A slightly edited version was later published in DISCoveries (October 1994)

Interviews by Devorah Ostrov & Steve Hill
Story by Devorah Ostrov

In October 1966 a two-minute and fifty-six second single, intriguingly titled "Psychotic Reaction," entered the Billboard Top 10 and stayed there for three weeks. Featuring a wall of fuzz and heavy-handed distortion, this garage-rock nugget catapulted the San Jose teenagers who recorded it into the national spotlight. Then, as suddenly as they came, they vanished, leaving only one album (Lester Bangs' delusional thesis to the contrary) to mark their place in rock history.

Here, the members of Count Five - vocalist/harmonica player Kenn Ellner, vocalist/rhythm guitarist John "Sean" Byrne, lead guitarist John "Mouse" Michalski, bassist Roy Chaney and drummer Craig "Butch" Atkinson - tell their story...

In the mid-'60s San Jose, California, boasted one of the most happening music scenes in the country. Bands like the E-Types, the Stained Glass, the Chocolate Watchband and the Golliwogs (later to change their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival) were rivals and friends, but the undisputed kings of the turf were the British Invasion-inspired Count Five.

Michalski: We had San Jose wrapped up! Everybody was our fan. We got along with the kids really well, so we had a good following.

The band's beginnings, however, were less than auspicious. Like every other kid growing up in the '60s, each member of the group was infatuated with rock 'n' roll.

Byrne: I grew up with the Beatles. I wanted to be a musician, and I emulated the Beatles.

Count Five pose in front of San Jose's Winchester
Mystery House in this iconic publicity photo.
Ellner: I started with music when I was real young. I used to sing quite a bit. When I was around 10 or 11-years-old I would listen to KLIV. They used to have a contest called 'Name It and Claim It.' I used to listen with my ear to the radio, and I'd win almost every record that came on the air! I could tell the record by the first note because I was such an avid rock 'n' roll fan.

Michalski: I used to listen to a lot of the Ventures. I picked up an acoustic guitar and just went by ear. I kept listening to the radio, trying to pick up everything people were playing. That's how I got going.

By 1964 Michalski and Chaney had formed an instrumental surf group, with drummer Skip Cordell. In 1965, keyboardist Phil Evans joined and when they decided to add a vocalist to the lineup, Ellner auditioned.

Ellner: I had been auditioning throughout the [Santa Clara] Valley with a bunch of groups, and I went over there. I knew Phil, we went to the same high school [Pioneer] and he had heard me sing. And I'd known Roy since I was eight years old, we were in elementary school together. They were operating out of somebody's living room; they really weren't playing anywhere.

With a limited set of Top 20 cover songs, the fledging group, then known as the Squires, began playing local high schools. A local club called the What's It gave the group its first real job.

Buffalo Springfield and Count Five
at the Third Eye - Redondo Beach, CA.
October 14/15, 1966
Ellner: We were singing through the amplifiers we were playing through, but despite all that we did start to get a little bit of a following. We started to get more and more dates.

As their reputation grew, Evans was dumped.

Ellner: Things weren't working out with our piano player. He was having some problems with a girlfriend, and it was a real hassle hauling around this 100-pound piano. Roy and Mouse said, "I think it's time we get somebody new."

Byrne's family had left Dublin, Ireland, and settled in San Jose just a few months earlier, buying the house across the street from Ellner. Like the others, he attended Pioneer High.

Byrne: I came over and asked if I could play. Roy had a guitar I could use.

Ellner: We brought Sean in, and he was playing guitar and writing songs. We started changing our repertoire, and our prowess as the Squires started to get a little bit better.

Next to go was drummer Cordell.

Ellner: Skip was a great technician, but he didn't have the feeling of a real rock 'n' roll drummer. Push came to shove, and one day we decided it was time to get a new drummer.

More auditions yielded an English drummer named Larry.

Count Five - publicity photo
Ellner: What everyone liked about Larry was he had a sparkle-red drum set, and he sang pretty good. For the first time, we were able to do three-part harmonies.

At this point, the Squires became Count Five.

Ellner: Really, Larry was the first Count Five drummer because when we changed the drummer, we decided to change the name.

Byrne: We were thinking of band names like the Dave Clark Five, and all the other Fives - and I just said Count Five and we stuck with it.

Four-song EP issued on the French Disc'AZ label (1966)
Ellner: It was never the Count Five. We wanted the double entendre. You could count one, two, three, four, five; or it could be like Count Dracula.

Perpetuating the Dracula association, an early publicity photo showed the group posed in front of San Jose's Winchester Mystery House draped in ankle-length black capes.

Ellner: That was mine and Sean's idea. We came up with the capes and ruffled shirts.

Byrne: It just fit. We thought that capes went with Counts.

But the capes turned out to be stifling onstage costumes.

Ellner: They were so hot, we'd only wear them for the first two or three songs. Then we'd take them off.

Long hair was also important to the band's image, which didn't always sit well with the officials.

Byrne: It was accepted in Ireland by the time I left in 1964, but when I came to this country - look out! It was not accepted, and it caused me a lot of problems.

Michalski: I got kicked out of school for having long hair. In those days, it was just a little over my collar.

Count Five - publicity photo
Ellner: That's right! In fact, on the back of the album it says Mouse went to Pioneer High School. That's because he lived at my house for about four weeks so he could go there. He was going to Blackford High and they were going to throw him out because he had long hair! At the time, Pioneer was one of the few schools that let boys have long hair.

Drummer Larry came and went quickly.

Ellner: Larry was with us for a couple of gigs, then he got real weird. I don't remember if he quit or if we fired him, but it got real bad and he left. Then my next door neighbor told me about Butch and I went over and talked to him.

Atkinson recalls an uneventful audition.

Atkinson: I was in school with Kenn, Sean and Roy. Kenn knew that I played the drums, so when their drummer quit, he asked me to join up with them. I went over to Kenn's house to audition and they said, "Well, you're probably good enough."

However, he actually made quite an impression on the group.

Ellner: There was this one song we'd written which had a very Byrds-type feel to it. Butch came in, sat down and just played it. It kind of blew us away that he knew our song! He thought it was one of the Byrds' tunes, so he was playing it in this sort of Byrds/Mike Clarke-style! Plus, his drums were red!

At this early stage, the group rehearsed at Atkinson's house.

Atkinson: We practiced in my living room. My mom still has ringing in her ears 20 years later!

Count Five with Iron Butterfly and
Bystanders - Santa Rosa Fairgrounds
May 13, 1967
But the boys' parents supported their endeavours.

Michalski: They said, "Go for it!"

Chaney: They were behind us all the way.

Regular gigs were still hard to come by, and at one point the group almost broke up before it had started.

Ellner: We had only played a couple of dates, and we hadn't gotten a job in about a month and a half. It was kind of slow and we were getting on each other's nerves. Mouse and Roy came over one night and said, "That's it, we're not going to play anymore. We're going to quit."

Minutes later, the group was offered its breakthrough gig.

Ellner: They had quit and were walking down the street when the phone rang. It was Lt. Robert Podesta from the San Carlos Police Department. He was running a youth club on weekends at a place called the Cinnamon Tree. A group called the Stained Glass had referred him to us. I called Roy and Mouse and said, "Look, let's play these last two dates." We played those two dates and the kids went crazy! It was like Beatlemania! We couldn't believe it.

Atkinson: We played the Cinnamon Tree sometimes three or four times a month on Friday and Saturday nights.

Byrne: It was a tremendous club for teenagers! We were so big at the Cinnamon Tree, they did a full-length painting of us on the wall - with our capes. That was our regular club, maybe the most regular we ever played at.

Count Five - publicity photo
Located just an hour south of San Francisco, by the mid-'60s San Jose had developed its own teen-scene personality, with a host of home-grown groups like the Syndicate of Sound, the Chocolate Watchband and Count Five all adopting a tough, "garage rock" stance.

Ellner: The San Jose scene was incredible! I have yet to see a scene like that anywhere else. There was a great rivalry, and a great camaraderie between the groups.

Atkinson: That was probably the most fun of anything, the camaraderie we had with the other groups. We got along real well with the Syndicate of Sound. It just seemed that anybody you had music in common with was pretty easy to get along with.

The band quickly gained a large local following, comprised mostly of teenage girls.

1967 Double Shot ad for singles by
Count Five & Brenton Wood. "You Must
Believe Me" was written by Curtis
Mayfield & originally recorded by the 
Impressions in 1965. 
Byrne: We never had too many guys come up to request songs, but we had a lot of girls come up and talk to us after the shows!

And "Psychotic Reaction," at that point one of the band's few self-penned songs, stood out as a crowd favorite, although many were mistaken about its subject matter.

Ellner: Sean was in a psychology class with a friend of Butch's named Ron Lamb. They were talking about emotional problems, like neurotic and psychotic reactions, and Ron said, "God, that's a great name for a song!" Sean said, "You know, you're right!" So, Sean came back... I had just got my first harmonica and we were jamming, and we got into the part of the song that goes da/da/da/da/da... That's how the whole thing got started. Then Sean wrote the lyrics to it.

Byrne: It was a drug idea, although we were not into drugs. But we were looking at what was going on around us and we could see that kind of music could sell. Although I don't want to say that we were trying to cash in on the drug thing, we thought it was interesting. We felt the song, we believed in it.

Over the next several months, the group worked on and modified the tune. At the time, they were managed by Ellner's father, who was convinced "Psychotic Reaction" was hit-record material.

Ellner: He told us he was going to get us a recording deal in six months, and in a year we'd have a record on the charts - and that's exactly what happened!

Sons of Champlin and Count Five
at San Francisco's Carousel Ballroom
July 6, 1967
Michalski: We had guys that would come up to us and say, "Hey, I'd like to manage you guys." Then they'd always give us the run around. Mr. Ellner was an insurance man. He knew how to handle business.

Did they have to behave properly because Ellner's father was there?

Chaney: He kept us straight in public. He was always telling us to watch our "P.I." or public image.

Michalski: He was like our chaperone, but he was cool! He was a cool guy.

And sometimes it was handy to have someone's dad around.

Michalski: It's like everybody would be harassing us, and he would take care of us a lot of times.

Ellner: One time, we were walking through the Pittsburgh Airport on our way to catch a plane, and one of the ticket takers made a remark about us being faggots. My dad had had enough of it because we got it everywhere we went. My dad went over and said, "Okay, big man..." They got into this big fight over it. They had to pull my dad away from him!

When Count Five played a show at West Valley College in San Jose, Ellner's father befriended influential KLIV disc jockey Brian Lord. The DJ asked if the group wanted to play on the Dave Clark Five show the following month.

Atkinson: You know how we responded to that!

Ellner: [Brian Lord] went on the radio the next Monday and talked about us for 20 minutes, which really boosted our career.

Count Five - publicity photo
Sadly, the Dracula capes made their final appearance at the Dave Clark Five show.

Ellner: I got carried away and threw my cape to the audience, so we were short a cape. And that was the end of it.

In better news, Lord also arranged an audition for the band with the newly-formed, LA-based label Double Shot Records.

Byrne: He's the one who got us the recording contract. We had been turned down by five other companies.

"Psychotic Reaction" b/w "They're Gonna Get You"
issued by Germany's Hansa label (1966)
Ellner: We had done a number of auditions, but we just couldn't get it. When we signed the contract with Double Shot, it was the only deal in town.

Michalski: When we auditioned for Double Shot, they said "Psychotic Reaction" was the one they wanted - "We'll sign you guys right up!"

Another self-penned tune, "They're Gonna Get You," (which refers to a barber shop as "that awful place") was chosen for the 45's B-side. But it could have been the other way around.

Ellner: There was a point where they didn't know whether to go with "Psychotic Reaction" or "They're Gonna Get You" for the A-side, because the requests were equal.

Byrne: To let you in on a little trivia, "They're Gonna Get You" was originally called "House on the Hill," but Hal Winn [the group's producer] didn't like it, so he changed it.

Some band members were sure that "Psychotic Reaction" would be a smash...

Ellner: I never doubted it for a minute. We were so naïve! "We're gonna make a record and it's gonna be a hit!" And it was.

Count Five, New Dawn, and the
Art Collection at the Terrace Room
in San Jose - July 15, 1967 
While others were taken by surprise...

Michalski: I didn't think it would do that well. I thought it was a pretty simple song.

Ellner: Mouse and Roy hated it! They were into R&B and blues. We had some fights when it first came out because my father insisted that we play it twice a night, the first song of the set and the last song of the set.

As the single raced up the charts (eventually peaking at #5), the label pressed the group to quickly record a full-length album.

Byrne: "Psychotic Reaction" took off so fast that Double Shot said, "You've got to get down here and do an album." Do an album of what? We had no music!

Michalski: We had some other originals, but they wanted a lot of material and they did push us to get the record out. We were making the songs up in the hotel room.

Byrne: One time we were sitting in our hotel room and Mr. Ellner says, "They're coming over to listen to you guys. What songs have you got?" We didn't have anything. I said to the guys, "How 'bout this?" and I started playing these chords and singing, "Some nights I'm alone..." Hal comes in and I sing, "Some nights I'm alone..." He says, "Okay, I like it."

That spur-of-the-moment composition would eventually be called "The Morning After," which would become the B-side of Count Five's rarely seen second 45.

1966 advert for the Big Bam in
Alabama with the Beach Boys,
Peter and Gordon, Lou Christie,
Ian Whitcomb, the Hollies -
and in tiny print at the
bottom of the page - Count Five.
Byrne: Everyone in San Jose thought "The Morning After" was going to be our next hit.

But disillusion with the recording industry was quick to set in.

Byrne: Our problems were with the engineer, the arranger, and the producer. At the time, we thought they didn't know their ass from a hole in the ground. We were told, "You don't know your own music." We were playing it, but they were telling us, "You don't know your own music."

Chaney: That's where they had more control. They figured they knew more about what people wanted to hear than we did. [The album] might have been different if it were done our way.

Michalski: They couldn't handle loud music and feedback. We'd get down there in the speakers and get the feedback - controlled feedback. They couldn't handle that. They'd say, "Hey, cut! Turn it down!" And I know I played better than what was on the album.

Ellner: We were rushed in the studio. Their whole thing was money. "That's good enough," was always the statement. We were never happy with any of the stuff, but they didn't care.

Atkinson: A lot of stuff we put on record didn't really work out. It kind of came out trashed. They didn't really work with us very much. I was so disappointed in the record at first because I thought they'd done such a terrible job of engineering it.

During one recording session, Ellner snapped.

Pye International ad for "Psychotic Reaction"
Atkinson: I recall one day when they really got to Kenn and he said, "You guys can just...!!" He was coming over the speakers, of course, and there were some girls and some press in the booth, and at that moment they shut off the sound. But you could lip-read what he said!

Ellner: And then I flipped them off. This guy [Hal Winn] was changing every f**king thing we did. He hated my voice and he hated me. I was saying, "You can't do that. That's not our sound." The whole day he'd been cutting up everything we were doing and I just couldn't take it anymore.

Byrne: They actually cancelled one of our recording sessions. They'd spent all this money for the studio, we'd spent all this money getting to LA and they said, "Go home. We're not going to get along today." It was either go with what they said or "Goodbye."

Count Five and E-Types at the Bold Knight
in Sunnyvale, California - July 7, 1967
Certain song titles on the album spark more recording memories/nightmares: "Pretty Big Mouth" for instance...

Byrne: It was a song I came up with to fill the album. I had those words floating in the back of my mind. That song happens to have a mistake at the end of it. I was supposed to sing, "Big, big mouth," with the music, but I was one step late. We said, "Let's do it again," and they said, "You don't know what you're talking about." So, we left it in. It does sound pretty good.

And "Peace of Mind"...

Byrne: I remember that day very well because someone was singing off-key. If you listen real close you can hear it. Thank God, they blamed somebody else! It was me! Also, if you listen, you can hear the foot-pedal squeaking at the beginning of the song.

Atkinson: I forgot my WD40 that day. There are so many things they left in that album.

And what about "The World"...

Byrne: They didn't record the vocals as I was doing them, but Hal heard me and liked what I was doing. I sang it again and Hal said, "No, Sean, do it the way you did it the first time." So, I did it again and Hal says, "No, do it like the first time." It got to be "The World," take 15! I was going out of my mind trying to remember what I had sung. I don't remember what take they used; I did it so many times.

Black & white publicity pic of the LP cover
According to the band, Winn's production of "Psychotic Reaction" was no more satisfactory.

Ellner: When we did "Psychotic Reaction" he didn't really do anything, he just sat there. I don't even consider him as producing "Psychotic Reaction." All we did was go in to do a demo tape. They turned on the machine and that was it. I think they probably cut it flat.

And the much-noted "phasing" effect you hear on the song wasn't an added production feature, but a technical glitch.

Ellner: They took the mono mix and popped it onto another track to make it double-track stereo and because of that, you get a lot of cancellations going on. That's what's happening, you're cancelling lots of notes and it sounds like crap! It's not a true phase shifter.

They do, however, acknowledge the wisdom of some changes Winn made to their signature tune. He suggested that Byrne insert the classic tagline: "And it feels like this!" And it was Winn's idea to shorten the song by a full verse.

Ellner: Those were his two production moments. Originally, there was an additional verse at the end. After, "I can't get your love/I can't get satisfaction/Uh-oh, little girl/Psychotic reaction," we modulated the key, "Da, da, da, da duh..." and went into the final verse. Hal cut the modulation, went back into the centrepiece, and then faded out because the song was too long. That was smart. Given the market at the time, I think it was a good move.

Four-song EP issued on Mexico's Gamma label (1966)
Byrne: I always wonder, "Did they make it a hit by changing it?" I don't know. They said they did. They said the way we were playing it, it wouldn't have been a hit.

While much has been written about Count Five being "San Jose's answer to the Yardbirds," it's interesting to note that the album's two cover songs - "My Generation" and "Out in the Street" - are both from the Who's catalog.

Byrne: At the time, we did more Yardbirds' covers than we did Who. The only reason the Who songs appear on the album is because we did them a little better than we did the Yardbirds', at least as far as the record company was concerned. Truth is, we did neither of them very good.

And how perceptive of them to record "My Generation" before it became a hit for the Who in the U.S.

Byrne: I have to give credit to Kenn and Mouse for that. They were always searching for new material to do, and at the time Kenn was very into the "English Sound."

"Psychotic Reaction" began its climb up the charts during the summer of 1966, and by September the guys were on the road full-time promoting it.

Count Five hanging out with the Voxmobile in 1967!
Ellner: It was actually released the week I graduated from high school! Our tour... I had just started Jr. College and I was touring the United States. I had all these assignments I couldn't do. I had to drop out.

One memorable billing had Count Five topping the Doors!

Michalski: I remember the first time I met Jim Morrison. He said, "The only difference between my group and your group is that you've got a hit record." He had mustard all over his face from eating a hot dog! He was a pretty sloppy guy.

Count Five being interviewed
Ellner: Jim Morrison tried to steal Butch's snare drum! It may not have been Jim, but it was somebody in his band. We'd played with them at the Santa Barbara Fairgrounds. We were packing up and were without the snare drum. Roy had conveniently picked up Jim's leather jacket and they came over and said, "Did you see a leather jacket?" We said, "Did you see a snare drum?" They said, "Oh, that's your snare drum? Somebody must have picked it up by mistake." And we said, "Oh, that's your leather jacket?" So we gave them back the jacket, got back our snare drum, and were on our way.

The band's most notable moment, all agree, was playing a two-day festival known as the "Big Bam in Alabama."

Atkinson: That was our first big show!

Ellner: Alabama was amazing! That should have been one of our last tour dates because you should never start the first tour of your life like that.

"Teenie Bopper, Teenie Bopper" b/w
"You Must Believe Me"
Released on the Belgium Palette label (1967)
(Both songs were non-album tracks.)
Byrne: It was our first time away from home with a big paycheck, and we went nuts! It got to a point where I passed out onstage!

Ellner: You have to understand, we got on a plane and flew to Alabama. We didn't know who was on the bill or anything. We got there and the lineup was the Beach Boys, Ian Whitcomb, Peter and Gordon, the Hollies, the Happenings, Lou Christie, and Count Five!

Chaney: [The groups] rented the whole top floor of the hotel. We were playing poker with the Hollies; we were in the Hollies' room with the Beach Boys! And there's hundreds of girls outside banging on the door. Finally, Allan Clarke [of the Hollies] opened the door and said, "If you f**k, come in. If you don't, piss off!"

However, touring through the Southern states in the mid-1960s presented some problems as well.

Michalski: We had a lot of problems! We got into a lot of fights! Especially in restaurants. They'd call us hippies and queers, and tell us to get out.

Count Five pose in front of the KCOP-TV van in LA.
Chaney: Tight pants and pointed boots... In Orange County, Texas the sheriff's son looked like Hoss and I was with his girlfriend. He came in and said, "Roy... I want to see Roy!" Needless to say, I'd gone out the back door.

Count Five's Top 10 status guaranteed them appearances on all the obligatory local radio and TV shows across the country. However, they missed out on two of the nation's biggest shows.

Michalski: We had a chance for Ed Sullivan, but they said they wouldn't let us on because we were just too weird. They weren't ready for us. The Beatles were strange and the Rolling Stones... But we were even stranger than them!

Ellner: And we turned down The Milton Berle Show. It was the first time a rock group was going to perform on the show. Milton Berle was intrigued by the capes and he wanted to include us in a skit, but nobody would take off school for a week to do it.

One show they did do was American Bandstand. After playing their hit, Dick Clark asked Ellner to explain the group's album cover.

Count Five - publicity photo
Ellner: I had to tell him that we were standing over this concrete hole in Los Angeles, where they were ripping down all these buildings. The hole was filled with sewage, that's why our faces look so funny; we couldn't breathe! Here I am talking about sewage on national television. It was awful! So I told him, "What really happened was the photographer was down there and everything was cool... and then he slipped! I'm surprised the photo even came out!" Dick Clark was a little stunned.

A second 45 - "Peace of Mind" b/w "The Morning After" - was released as the follow-up to "Psychotic Reaction," but by that point Double Shot had lost interest.

Atkinson: It made #106 in the nation and fell off the charts.

Double Shot issued a few more Count Five singles between 1967 - 1969, including several non-album tracks and a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "You Must Believe Me," none of which dented the charts.

Byrne: Our record company didn't promote us after "Psychotic Reaction." The dollars started rolling in for those guys and they wanted to keep them. They didn't put the money into producing or promoting us.

"Reaccion Psicopatica" b/w "Te Encerraran"
("Psychotic Reaction" b/w "They're Gonna Get You")
issued on Spain's Hispavox label (1966)
Ellner: It's too bad they didn't give us a chance to record a good second album. They went with an R&B act, Brenton Wood ["Gimme Some Sign"]. It was something they understood better. They never really understood what we were about.

Do they feel that Double Shot ripped them off?

Atkinson: I'm sure the record company cut themselves a pretty good deal, but I'm sure it was all legal. We were all underage. We had to talk our parents into letting us sign the contracts, and they didn't know anything about the music business.

Chaney: Everyone seemed to be taking care of us, but I'm sure they were taking care of themselves, too.

Michalski: They were the ones driving the Cadillacs after the record came out. They did well.

By 1968, Count Five was drifting apart. Michalski and Chaney were the first to leave. They were replaced for some local shows by two members from the Syndicate of Sound, but by the end of the year the band had broken up.

The John Byrne Tribute to 
Bay Area Garage Bands featuring
Count Five, Syndicate of Sound & members
of the Chocolate Watchband
February 21, 2009
Atkinson: It's kind of tough when your first record is a hit and you can't do it again. I think it would have been better if we had cut a couple of flops and then had a hit. We weren't ready for it; it seemed too easy. When we couldn't do it again and again, it got kind of frustrating.

Michalski: And the draft got us. We were all 19, and at that time when you were 19, you were drafted. Butch enlisted because he wanted to be a pilot. Sean wasn't a citizen yet, so he didn't have to worry. Kenn had a bad back. Roy got out of it. But it took me four years to beat it.

Ellner would have liked to have carried on a while longer.

Ellner: I really wish we had. I think all our lives would be quite different now.

One long-circulated rumor has it that towards the end of the group's career they turned down a million dollars in order to go to college. Is that true?

Byrne: Yes! I'm sorry I didn't save the newspaper. The San Jose Mercury News had a front-page headline saying we turned down a million dollars. We turned down a tour, it wasn't a guarantee. Somebody said, "Your potential is a million dollars." But we did turn it down and I was the cause of it because, believe it or not, I wouldn't quit college. I was having too much fun!

* * *

John "Sean" Byrne died on December 15, 2008 from cirrhosis of the liver.

* Craig "Butch" Atkinson passed away on October 13, 1998.

* For more information about Count Five, visit the band's official website at: