An Interview with Neal Ford (July 2008)
by Bill Thompson
BT: Can you tell me what a typical Neal Ford & The Fanatics
set list looked like in each year of the band's existence?
That is, what songs were played live. What songs by other
artists did you cover? What originals did you play on
NF: Never in my 23 years on
stage have I ever had a set or show
list. It was all in my head. I gave the band the opening
song then I called the show (unknown to the audience) as I went. I have
always been able to read an audience and I always attempted to give
them what they wanted. Nothing pleased us more than pleasing the
audience. We did a lot of our own songs mixed in with some of the
British music and R&B. Animals, Wilson Pickett, Isley Bros.,
James Brown, Zombies etc. We actually rocked on stage much more
than how we ended up recording.
BT: I remember seeing the band at an afternoon performance at
Memorial City Mall. I also have seen posters where you
played at Carousel Skating Rink on the Katy Freeway.
What other venues did you play in the Spring Branch
area? What other venues did you play in the Houston
area? What out of town gigs did you play?
NF: The gigs in the Spring
Branch area were before we had hit
records. Once the records began to climb the charts and go to the
top position, we were in demand by promoters who were bringing in
national acts to the larger venues. The Houston Colesium, The Music
Hall etc. We played many of the larger Texas cities when acts were on
tour. Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and so on.
For example we did all those cities with Jimi Hendrix, The Beach Boys,
Sonny and Cher. Jefferson Airplane and others. The Catacombs was sort
of our home base, We played with so very many groups there. Some were;
Spencer Davis Group with Stevie Winwood on organ, Jeff Beck Group with
(I think) Rod Stewart singing an occassional song, The Outsiders,
Country Joe, Mothers of Invention and many, many others. We also played
large dance halls around Texas. Places that held 1500 to 2500 kids. We
only played for kids or concerts. We never played a club that sold
liquor as I recall. We never played a week long gig. Only 1 nighters.
We also did a record promotion tour (Nation Wide) mostly throughout the
eastern US. Sometimes we would fly up to Oklahome City to do a TV Show
there. I forgot the name.
BT: What memories do you have of your fellow acts on those
package shows (The Mothers, Eric Burdon, The Outsiders, The Moving
Sidewalks), or other musicians that you worked with during the
60's? Do you have any stories of those experiences
that you can share?
NF: Too many names/too many
stories. I've had Jeff Beck over for
dinner, I've jammed all night in John Fogerty's hotel room with John
and Tony Joe White then got up and got into John's jet and flown over
the North Pole, I've sat up all night in a hotel room with Merle
Haggard and Freddy Powers, Did a Galveston celebration with Jim Webb
who wrote Galveston, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Up Up and Away, Mac
Arthur Park and on and on, We've played ragtag football with The
Outsiders, The Moving Sidewalks (Billy Gibbons) was managed by our
manager's little brother so we all hung out at their pool alot, spent
time with Paul Revere and The Raiders, watched Jimi Hendrix try to
trade 3 of his guitars for one of Jon Pereles's guitars, (Jon would not
trade), played for Sonny and Cher to rehearse and then they cancelled
their LA band and asked us to play for them during the concerts, (we
did), Baby John, our drummer shared an apartment with B. J. Thomas,
John Pereles and I shared an apartment on the 14th floor of the
Conquistador and Rex Cramer of The Coastliners would stay with us when
in town, he later had a group called Bojangles and was dating Liza
Minelli who came up to the apartment with him. Sometimes The
Coastliners would come over to my apartment and party and sing with The
Fanatics and one night they were all arrested for disturbing the peace
and I had to go down and bail everyone out of jail. Once
when we were
about to open for Jefferson Airplane the promoter came up to me and
asked if I would mind if he put a single act on before us to open the
show-I said sure it's OK so this guy dressed in black and playing a
black guitar came out and sang two or three songs (Neil Diamond) I
later reminded him when I was playing in a Hotel Showroom in Baton
Rouge La. He remembered and had me up to his suite, he had the top two
floors of the Hotel and gave me front row seats for the entire band and
roadies. The stories go on and on. I won't bore you with any more. No
one believes them anyway.
BT: The Fanatics Fan Club seems to have been fairly
active. Any memories of dealing with fans and the fan club?
NF: We had a great fan club
and really appreciated them. We
played for them on several occassions. Sometimes we would rent a
ballroom at a hotel or something like that and play exclusively for
them and spend time with them afterwards. We love it and them.
BT: Where did the band rehearse? Did you guys spend
much time together outside of your rehearsals and performances?
NF: In the beginning we
rehearsed in WT's living room in Spring
Branch. Later at the Ames house and The Catacombs. We did spend a lot
of time together but we had our own seperate lives too. We were very
close and had great times together. Many, many laughs. Lanier was half
(or more) insane and Richard Ames our manager was one of the funniest
people I've ever known.
BT: Tell me about how the songs were written. I
notice that there were collaborations among different sets of band
members. Any memories about how specific songs were written
would be great.
NF: Starting out I wrote
most of the songs myself. I would relay
the melodies to the band and as they worked on the music and added this
and that, I would add them as writers. Jon was really the only one in
the band besides me that wrote songs. Jon and I would co-write together.
BT: "Shame on You" has
become something of a cult classic among psych/garage fans.
NF: Here's the real
story on "Shame On You". I wrote the song around 1965 (I think).
We recorded it at Jones Sound Recording in the Heights. The owner Doyle
Jones and Mickey Gilley were the engineers. I took the tape to
Nashville and got an offer from Hickory Records owned by Acuff/Rose
Publishing. At the time they were being very successful with acts like
The Newbeats-"Bread and Butter", Sue Thompson and other pop acts. The
main song that they were interested in was "Shame On You". If you
look on the single you will see that it was released as the "A" side
and was being promoted as the single until Joe Ford at KNUZ flipped it
one day and played "Gonna Be My Girl" which was written by Jon
Pereles. The phones lit up and KILT jumped on the flip side also
and it leaped to # 1 staying on top of the charts for weeks. This
changed the whole direction of our album and future recording efforts.
Prior to that we were doing a harder rock oriented music like "Woman",
"I Will Not Be Lonely", "Pain" etc. "Gonna Be My Girl" took us to
doing more of Jon's compositions which was a much lighter pop/rock
sound. I called it Hard Bubblegum. In retrospect, I wish we had
stayed more in the original style. "I Will Not Be Lonely" was my
original direction for us and the real me at the time. I never
intended to sing "Shame On You" as you hear it on the record. It just
developed to that in the studio. I'm totally shocked to see it on so
many internet sites and on so many compilation CD's. It and "I Will Not
Be Lonely" are getting more play and recognition now than back when we
BT: I agree that the harder rocking songs have held up
better over time than the "hard bubblegum", but I do like both
styles. I think the poppier songs like "Wait For Me",
"Gonna Be My Girl" and "I Have Thoughts Of You" compare favorably to a
lot of The Monkees songs.
Any other stories about working with the Houston radio
personalities like Weird Beard, Joe Ford and Paul Berlin?
NF: All the DJ's in Houston
whether on KNUZ or KILT were great
to us. We always helped them out with dances that they would sponsor at
places like Teen Canteen, Mt. Carmel etc.
BT: How often did the band appear on local TV shows like Larry
Kane? Did you get to do any nationwide appearances on
TV or radio?
NF: We did Larry Kane too
many times to remember how many. Yes,
we did national radio promotion tours and TV but I can't remember the
BT: Skipping ahead in time, can you give me some information on
"The Neal Ford Foundation" - how the band was formed, production of the
album, gigs that you played, etc. Also, were any
singles released from the album? I found on the
Internet the story of the guy who ripped off some of your
equipment. Do you have any other stories from that
period of time? I think I saw where Rick Mensik is now
running a club in Fairbanks, Alaska. Do you stay in touch
with any of those guys?
NF: Here's a true
story--I was offered a TV show sponsored
by a local furniture co. It was called Neal Ford in Soul Country. It
got a lot of play on two of the Houston TV stations. I wanted the band
to play on it with me but Richard Ames did not want the band to play on
it nor did he want me to do the show. He thought it was contrary to our
fan base and that it would harm our image. He told me if I did not give
up the TV show that he wanted the band to go on without me. I got upset
and asked for a release from my contract and he gave it to me. That was
a very deeply sad event because it was my band that I had put together
and it was my heart and soul at the time. It really hurt me that the
band would go along with it. Looking back at the whole situation I
realize that Richard's reasons and direction was right and I was wrong.
However, his thinking he could continue without me was not right and it
never should have come to that. That's how Neal Ford and The Fanatics
became The Fanatics. I think they worked two jobs afterwards. I went to
Las Vegas and performed at The Fremont Hotel then Bakersfield Ca then I
came back to Houston and formed The Neal Ford Foundation.
The Neal Ford Foundation was;
Rick Mensik-B3, WT Johnson-Bass,
Larry Barnett-Drums and Kirk Roberts-guitar. We rehearsed in Rick's
living room in Rosenberg for weeks then went to Lubbock Tx. to break in
the act. We played 5 nights a week and got very tight. We then started
playing Marriot Hotel Showrooms. First in Acapulco for 4 months then
others. We then started playing the Nevada Del Webb's Sahara
Hotel/Casinos. We played a lot in Lake Tahoe and actually opened the
Sahara in Reno. We owned our own Showrooms in Lubbock (Bojangles)
and in Dallas (Rick and Neal's). We went on tour for 7 years in a row
to Alaska and Hawaii playing mostly US military bases. I got burned out
in 1983 and retired from the road and the life of a performer. During
that time we recorded two albums: one in Lubbock and the other in
Dallas. Neither was worthy of recognition. We surpressed our
creativeness when we became a show group playing cover tunes for the
steady money and nice showrooms. We all had wives, kids,
responsibilities and fell victim to a safe and comfortable lifestyle.
Rick is a club owner in Fairbanks, Alaska. He moved his family up there
in the late 80's. I last saw him in Rosenberg at his Dad's funeral.
Rick was the funniest entertainer I ever worked with. A super talent
and dear friend.
Another little bit of info for you is that in 1970 the Texas Prison
System gave the first grant to fund a prison system to set up an
educational system within the Texas Prisons to educate prisoners that
they could obtain high school and college degrees. This was headed up
by Dr. Lane Murray of Huntsville Tx. She and her husband, Dr. Thom
Murray, who were dear friends, asked me to write, produce and perform
the title song for a documentary film about the program entitled "Tatoo
My Soul". I did so and it won second place that year at the New
York and Chicago film festival. I think the players on that
session were Wayne Rogers-organ, Bill Kinnerly-bass, Steve Keller-drums
and I can't remember the guitar player.
BT: Can you tell me what you've been doing musically since the
NF: I moved to Nashville in
1983 and began to produce and manage
country acts. I managed Rex Allen Jr. and for a short period of time
Tony Joe White. You remember Tony Joe had a big record with Poke Salad
Annie back in the late 60's and wrote the classic Rainy Night In
Georgia. He also wrote Steamy Windows for Tina Turner. I believe Tony
Joe White and Delbert McClinton to be two of the best artist of our
time. I brokered a Nashville Publishing Co. sale to Espy Music
Group and Michael Jackson's manager, Frank Delio that sold for high 7
figures. I returned to Houston in 1990 due to cancer in my family and
stayed there for 12 years (not in the music business) and then returned
to Nashville just after the 9/11 attack. I returned here to write
songs and to write on a children's concept character "Banjo" a
little burro who is compelled to do good deeds when he hears an old man
who never speaks play his banjo. Soon it will be available on the
internet. I am working with a Power Country Trio called FLETCHER. All
brothers, two being twins that write, play, sing and perform their own
style of rockin' country. They have just completed a new CD entitled
FLETCHER. Two of the songs I wrote with the lead singer Mitchell
Fletcher and producer-Blue Miller formerly of the Miller/Gibson Band.
The first release went out to100's of country stations in secondary
markets today. It is called We Don't Wanna Die.
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