The Blues Magoos Are Ready for a Psychedelic Resurrection!
The Blues Magoos in 2014: Mike Ciliberto, Geoff Daking, Ralph Scala, Peter Stuart and Peppy Castro.
"Hello! This is Peppy Castro! Psychedelic pioneer!"
This is how the man born Emil Thielhelm answers the phone at his home and studio in New York, in a rat-a-tat energetic voice whose pace he will keep up for more than 20 minutes of conversation.
And he's got reason to be excited, with the re-formation of his '60s psychedelic/garage rock band The Blues Magoos, and their first new album in more than 40 years, Psychedelic Resurrection (Kayos Productions).
Featuring both re-recordings of their classic songs (including biggest hit "[We Ain't Got] Nothin' Yet") and new material, the current lineup features original members Castro (guitar, vocals), Ralph Scala (lead vocals, organ), classic lineup drummer Geoff Daking, and new members Mike Ciliberto (guitar) and Peter Stuart (bass).
Classic lineup members Ron Gilbert (bass) and Mike Esposito (drums) also make guest appearances, making it a full reunion, at least on record. And it's a much more guitar heavy work than their earlier records, which were dominated by Scala's Vox Continental organ.
The 65-year-old Castro says the reformation of the Blues Magoos came about directly as a result of fan interest, as well as their own creeping mortality.
"When you're an eclectic one hit wonder band like us, people are always asking when we would get back together, and I felt at this point so many people have, we would do it. It would also give us a chance to recut some of our older material because we don't own the originals," Castro says.
"And at this age, every day I wake up is a good day. I've seen on Facebook, I had about 30 people I knew pass away this year, and they were all younger than me! I know this sounds silly, but this is like my high school reunion. I left home at 14 and had a top ten record at 17. It's about reliving an enjoying a moment in time and having some fun."
The New York-based band first formed in 1964 at The Trenchcoats, before changing their name to the Bloos Magoos, and then finally Blues Magoos. Their sound was based in garage rock (thanks to Scala's prominent organ work), but they also caught the nascent psychedelic trend.
With the classic lineup in place, their 1966 debut, Psychedelic Lollipop, made them one of the first bands to use the term in a song or album title. Its leadoff tack, "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet" was a top ten hit, and the band followed up with Electric Comic Book the next year. The Magoos never had another hit, and three more albums followed with Castro as the only constant member before the band called it quits in 1970.
But Castro remembers the moment when the Blues Magoos first began to explore more psychedelic sounds, and it turned out to be a fluke accident.
"We had an Echoplex [a sound effects machine that used tape delay] and it fell off the piano. When we plugged it back in, it gave us this feedback, and we didn't know what to do, but we loved the sound it made!" Castro says.
"So we moved the tape selector and changed the speed and it made an even [weirder] sound on feedback and we went 'wow, that's cool!' And we started playing with it and incorporating it into the music."
And while it was mostly west coast bands like the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Jefferson Airplane that got the attention for psychedelic music, Castro says there was a friendly geographic rivalry.
"We were happy to represent the east coast, and when we made it out west, we played with bands like the Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape, and they were fabulous," Castro says. "But it was a different vibe. They were more mellow. We had the energy of New York."
The Blues Magoos were on one 1967 tour that found them opening the show, followed by the explosive Who, before headliners the gentile teen pop crush act Herman's Hermits. It was an odd pairing, bringing to mind when the Jimi Hendrix Experience opened for the Monkees.
"That was a wild tour, and the audience was split. You had these freaks that came out to see us and the Who, and then these families with kids who were there for Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits!" Castro laughs.
And at last one member of the Who made a more, um, direct impact on him.
"I spent a lot of time with Keith Moon, and he was a stark, raving maniac! My, I have a tremendous amount of stories about him! But I eventually just couldn't keep up with him [partying] because it would have killed me. He was just too crazy!"
After the Magoos petered out, Castro took a part in the original stage version of Hair, played in other groups (including Barnaby Bye and Balance) and stayed in the business as a performer, songwriter, and producer. Daking went on to found (and still runs) Daking Audio, manufacturers of high-end audio and recording equipment.
The "resurrected" Blues Magoos hope to play more frequently, both on the strength of nostalgia and the new CD. But Castro has a dim view of today's music industry with its divergent chart classifications, available opportunities for classic bands of the '60s and '70s, and market flooding.
"The [music industry] has lost its luster for sure. It just doesn't have the meat, the depth anymore. And the market is full of people making music in their bedrooms and careers out of creating loops and samples. They're not even musicians!" he says. "And it's a lot tougher for kids today with bands to break out."
Finally, asked if he had any specific memories of Houston, Castro relates one gastronomically, um, memorable experience.
"I had some really bad Chinese food there once!" he laughs. "At the time, as the Blues Magoos, we would order Moo Goo Gai Pan as kind of a joke. Still, I've loved going to the state over the years. There's the United States...and then there is Texas!"
Find out more about the Blues Magoos here.
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