interviuri rock

Woody Leffel (GRANICUS): I just love kick-ass rock’n’roll

Woody Leffel (GRANICUS): I just love kick-ass rock’n’roll
BANDS : Granicus

Although many would not let go their hold of “Black Sabbath Vol 4” or even “Master of Reality”, we cannot pretend that the 70’s weren’t fully marked by all sorts of bursting and diversified hard rock creations that were placed between blues and doom, some albums that go beyond the above-mentioned ones in terms of complexity. Beyond the giant The Doors, beyond Deep Purple and even behind the Astro-musicians of Hawkind, there were plenty of cult names and it’s not just that they crafted remarkable riffs, but many of them are included among the pioneering bands in the progressive and psychedelic genres. Among fascinating rarities such as Horse, Orang Utan, Atomic Rooster or Valhalla, we have this Granicus, which came into prominence through the medium of a pretty anarchist psychedelic rock with some really atypical vocals and themes resembling Robert Plant’s style in Led Zeppelin. This band did start a new cultural phenomenon in the Western parts of the United States. At one point, Metalfan’s writer Ovidiu Toma made a spontaneous investigation and laid his hands on Granicus vocalist’s contacts, namely Woody Leffel. He pieced out some information related to Granicus and by the fall of 2016, Ţugu called Woody in order to make an interview. The two had a pretty interesting talk, which was worthy of being noted in a chapter dedicated to the global heritage of rock-n-roll. The mischance was that the hard disk which was keeping the recording of this talk, was destroyed in a flood. When the whole Metalfan crew thought that Leffel’s words got lost forever along the surface of a magnetizing mass, some skilled gentlemen from an IT department recovered the data from that certain hard disk. Hence, we are able to present you the entire interview today. You will find some opinions regarding a political scene which is not in the pipeline anymore, so don’t get excited by believing that you lived in a dream so far when you will read that Donald Trump didn’t become the president yet, because those ideas were spoken before November 2016. 

Dale Bedford (bass), Joe Battaglia (drums), Al Pinell (guitar),
Woody Leffel (lead vocals) and Wayne Anderson (guitar) - Granicus 1973

Metalfan: Hello and welcome to! Let’s take it from the very beginning: when did you discover music and what made you sing rock music? What was the turning point for you?
Woody Leffel: Well, I was singing in the quire of the catholic school church and I sang “Ave Maria” two years in a row, the soprano part. I got really interested in music when I heard Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. I just thought that their stuff was great. That’s when I got really interested. I was in school and I was singing with my guitar; a song called “Black Flag”, I remember.

Metalfan: For our younger audience and some other guys that might not know that much about you, could you sum up the story of your band?
Woody Leffel: Well… I was in a couple of bands… At some point I was in a band that played with Eric Clapton and Cream and a bunch of other big acts. And I had some success doing concerts, opening for bigger bands for a while and then I got out of it because I couldn’t do anything with this group when it came to original music. I was living down the streets in Lakewood, Ohio, and at some point, I heard these guys playing down the street, just drums and rhythm guitar – Joe Battaglia and Al Pinnel – and I just went there, knocked at their door and asked them what they were doing. I went downstairs and they were playing some stuff and it sounded really cool, really different. Like really high energy, fast and loud. And I thought it would be pretty cool to try and do some lyrics and some melodies with it, and help arrange, you know.

That’s how it started: these two guys were jamming and then I jumped in. And I guess they had a bass player already on the line, but he wasn’t playing with them at the time. Then they got the lead guitarist, Wayne, and we spent some time in Cleveland practising the tunes in a warehouse in the east side of the city. Afterwards we went upstate New York, managed by some guy named George Freije from the American Bureau of The Arts, but the gigs they were getting us and the exposure were very limited. I guess he was probably too small time. What happened was that we did some auditions in New York City and I guess RCA liked our song “Cleveland, Ohio” and they ended up signing us.

The problem was they made I guess 50.000 copies, but we had no tour and no promotion or anything. As a matter of fact, the RCA guys once had ended a meeting with an artist and they told me: “She is gonna be our next new star!”. And I was thinking “Then what are we, chopped liver?!” You know, I kinda saw the handwriting on the wall with that deal. RCA was always notorious for keeping what was already going: David Bowie, Elvis Presley… They were famous for that.

Anyway, I got an offer from Columbia Records for a four-record deal, besides re-doing the RCA one. And Kim Fowler, from California, was going to write some ballads… Basically it meant we were going to be on the radio in all major markets. And we were going to tour with Blue Oyster Cult and The Ramones and so on. But they wanted to take a whole lot of money which, from what I understand, is the way it works. I mean, you can always renegotiate… Well, the guys in the band wanted to stay with RCA and that was the moment when I decided to walk away. Basically, the guys in Columbia Records were going to take me by myself and make me a band and put me in a warehouse in New York City… But, you know, I was waiting for a child back then and I had already spent two years trying to keep Granicus together; and I freaked out, you know, I couldn’t start all over again. So, I just kinda walked away from it. But, you know, signing over a lot of money to a corporation is the norm. And then you have to renegotiate down the road. But that didn’t work, so that was pretty much the end of the band, that’s why the band was so short lived. Because they thought, with the manager from Albany, upper state New York, they could do it on their own. And I vehemently disagreed with that.

And in 2010 some guys came around with some tapes. They had some vocals, they sounded really well and they had good content as melodies. And they wanted me to work on these four-track tapes, and that’s how the other album got going. I told Mike I’d work on the lyrics and melodies and I took it to the studio. So I did some arranging with that, you know, vocals and lyrics... And that’s how “Thieves, Liars and Traitors” got done. The band had its own studio walls and we did like 60-70 percent of the work in our studio, fixing up stuff. And I also did some chopping, digitally, taking a piece out, putting it back in; it was quite a job adding stuff to a four track that had been done years ago. That might have been the hardest thing I had to do in my life. [Ed. Note: laughs]

Metalfan: How was it when you got together with those guys after so many years? Had you been keeping in touch? Or was it a very long pause and all of a sudden – reunion?
Woody Leffel: There was no contact with them at all.

Metalfan: At all?? And wasn’t it awkward in some way?
Woody Leffel: Well, it was a little strange. [Ed. Note: laughs] But I’ll tell you something that’s really freaky: I was doing an Ouija board decades and decades before. And the board said that these guys would be calling me in 2009 and I had to do something… That’s totally flipped out…

Metalfan: Who said that? The Ouija board??
Woody Leffel: Yes, that’s what it said… That these two particular guys would be calling. And I said back then that there is no way that would happen… Isn’t that wild?

Metalfan: Yes, it is…
Woody Leffel: But right now, back to the point with the band, there’re too many artistic differences for us to do any more music together. I think they got another singer that they’re trying to do something together with. I wrote the music and the lyrics and even the hooks… I wrote the lead guitar hook for “You’re In America” and “Bad Talk”, I wrote the hook for that… So pretty much I’m not doing anything with them now.

Metalfan: Let’s talk a bit about the US in the late 60’s and early 70’s. How did it seem for a young musician like you? People here (especially because we were under Communism back then) tend to think US (and UK) was heaven on Earth for rock music and rock musicians. Did you feel the same?
Woody Leffel: Well, yeah, it was. I mean, rock’n’roll from the 50’s, blues and folk and even a little bit of jazz – it seemed like they were blending, especially in the early 70’s. Bands could put different genres in their music without people freaking out, you know… We could do different types of music in one, sort of a conglomerate. I don’t know if you can get away with stuff like that now in music. Now you can take rock or country or pop or rap – it’s all gotta be straight down the road. You don’t have a lot of musical freedom.

Metalfan: Well, I guess you can find some mix-and-match things... Like rap and metal, for instance. But I don’t know if it’s about experimenting or just a business decision. Let’s take this rap band that sells, put it together with a metal band that sells and try to sell more.

Woody Leffel: Yes, it’s all about business and money. It’s like, the companies are making stars like the monkeys. Now the big corporation, even the MTV shows, are finding talents, grooming them, telling them what to do. Now they are making TV shows where they make money off people working for them... Competing against each other and stuff. And I think it’s horrible that people have to cry in front of the cameras because they are not good enough. I think Jim Morrison from The Doors would jump off the stage and strangle a couple of judges. There are a lot of great people whom we look up to that wouldn’t really make it if they were on TV shows competing… They’d be nowhere, you know…

Metalfan: Unfortunately, I forgot the smart person who said it, but think it was a famous and smart musician who said in an interview that Bono or Sting wouldn’t have made it at The Voice. They’d be rejected from the start.
Woody Leffel: Great, exactly! Look at we would all miss! They’re trying to homogenise everything, whereas everybody has a particular voice.

Metalfan: Were you back then, politically and socially involved? Did you have a political stance about the Vietnam war, for instance?
Woody Leffel: Yes, I cared A LOT. I think it was just horrible. I think too many times these powerhouse countries like China, Russia, US and UK take too many liberties when involving with other places and creating more turmoil than it was to begin with. I’m not saying US intentions are bad all the times, but they sometimes create more trouble than there was to begin with… It’s sad… I’ll tell you this: if Donald Trump is elected president, I’m considering moving to Canada. So that’s how I’m involved politically.

Metalfan: From what I hear from my friends in the US, Trump has a fair chance to win, right?

Woody Leffel: Yes, he has a good chance.

Metalfan: They keep telling me that nobody likes Trump, but they like Hillary even less.

Woody Leffel: That’s true. But the problem is that the constant lies become truth at some point. If you hear a lie long enough, you start believing it. I’m not crazy about Hillary either, don’t get me wrong, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ll vote for the lesser of two evils.

Metalfan: Yes, we do that a lot here in Romania.
Woody Leffel: Because you know, this thing with waging wars and not taxing the rich and people on Wall Street being pretty and selling mortgages over and over and over… You know, they made their money and now the tax payers gotta pay for it. So, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle-class shrinks. Bernie Sanders was the guy that I wanted, but obviously, that’s never gonna happen. It is very strange for me that the right-wing Christians vote for people who are on the other side of the spectrum of Jesus Christ.

Metalfan: True… Getting back to music: we’ve read, and we’d like to fact-check it with you, that you recorded the Granicus debut album in ten days. Is that true? How did it feel to work at such a fast pace?
Woody Leffel: Yes, it’s true. They’ve pushed it [Ed. Note: the record company]. They put us in a studio where they usually record orchestras, big orchestras. They just put up some baffle walls and we basically played the songs live. And sometimes, like for “Paradise”, I’d do the vocals in a booth, after the music was laid out. But sometimes it all got done in one time, like live – boom. It was pretty cool… We didn’t take sanctuary in those days, we did a lot of drinking. [Ed. Note: laughs]

Metalfan: I’m sure. You’re a rock musician, you’re almost obliged to.
Woody Leffel: I remember drinking at Waldorf Astoria and you ate what the chef was making, right? And there was like beef Stroganoff and they put sour cream on it; and I said: “I’m not eating this stuff with sour cream on it!” And the chef came out with a big butcher knife, like jokingly threatening me. It was pretty funny. You can imagine this high-class place, right? With the chef coming at me: “Who doesn’t like my Stroganoff?” [Ed. Note: laughs]

Metalfan: Hahaha, great!
Woody Leffel: New York City was fun, a lot of fun. But it’s amazing how much money you have to have to be there, it’s very expensive.

Metalfan: You wrote the lyrics for the debut album, so it would be great if you could tell us a couple of things about each of the songs, or at least about your favourites.
Woody Leffel: Well, “Bad Talk” is obviously an anti-war song, it’s about people talking, deciding who’s cool or who isn’t, what you should be and what you should like, how you should dress and so on.  “You sent us off to war” – that’s all this song is about. I think that there’s a lesson learned and I think it’s still happening today. I think, with this terrorism thing, they now have the war that they always wanted. Somehow, it’s perverted into a full time war. Well, I don’t know, if you and I could sit down and talk about how we’d end it, we would, wouldn’t we?

Well, it’s like Eisenhower said when he was leaving office: “Beware of the military industrial machine!” And he was a Republican and a general who did the D-Day, going into Normandy in France. And HE said it, so… It’s pretty scary, isn’t it?

Metalfan: But you have other types of songs, like “Cleveland, Ohio”. I presume this would be about your roots, an easy guess, haha…

Woody Leffel: Yes, when I was first coming up doing rock’n’roll bands, you know, I was one of the first people who had long hair and we had a psychedelic light set and we were called The Renaissance Fair... And, boy, I mean we had tens of thousands of fans… People from grade school, people from high school. But there were a lot of people hating us, because of my long hair and the way we dressed. And we had those people we called “greasers” or “grease balls” that were trying to hurt us like beat you up and stuff. And there was a lot of this going on, you’d have to be in fear for your life a lot of times, you know… And that’s where that came from, plus the deplorable state of air and water and everything. In the 60’s we had a river catching up fire. But by the time the song came out it was a little bit past, you know… But there were still a lot of uptight people, and with the Vietnam war it was kinda like “us against them”. That’s probably where that song came out.

Metalfan: What was the spark for “You’re In America”?
Woody Leffel: Just thinking about aggressiveness and greed, people not being fair… It’s just like today, where people blame ghettoes and some areas in the city for drugs and stuff. But they don’t think: “Hey, if we gave those people some jobs maybe it wouldn’t be so bad!” The rich people, they only look one way, blaming the brats for their crimes, but they don’t think “Well, maybe we should do something about it, maybe we should help!” So it’s basically how about we, Europeans, came over here and treated minorities badly for hundreds of years. You can hear that, right?

Metalfan: Right. Another interesting thing about the album was the cover. It was very special for that time, we think. Do you know the story of the artwork?
Woody Leffel: I’m not totally sure about that. I think it was someone’s idea at the RCA. I came up with the silhouettes, but the sun I think it came from the record company. The CD with the moon, that was my idea. But I believe the original cover idea came from RCA.

Metalfan: A subject worth mentioning is the fact that you (or someone in the band) came to Europe and found out that the record was illegally sold on our continent. Any idea how that happened? Haha!
Woody Leffel: I have no idea, ’cause I have the lyrics copyrighted, but I don’t have the songs and melodies copyrighted. George Freije, the manager, was supposed to have the stuff copyrighted, and I don’t believe he ever did. That’s just a thing that the band didn’t follow up on. But I have copyright on lyrics and melodies for the new album. Well, these people are stealing our work with impunity, there are free records in Germany, and there’s some more out of Spain, I believe. So there’s a couple of guys making CD’s and getting away with it, just stealing it, you know. 
The RCA should care, because it’s amounting to a lot of money in their eyes, you know.

Metalfan: I think it’s a very rare case of such obvious piracy in Europe. It’s not like torrents or anything, it’s CD’s sold in plain sight, haha!

Woody Leffel: Yes, but I suppose if you spent the money to get a lawyer and go over there, I don’t know where it would get you. You could get a judge to rule against these companies, but I don’t know if you’d get anything out of them.

Metalfan: Right. We were curious, do you ever listen to new stuff? There are a couple of bands, Scorpion Chid, Blue Pills, Orchid, of young bands that play 70’s-like stuff... Your style, for instance. Have you ever listened to them?
Woody Leffel: Outside of Nirvana and R.E.M. (their original style) I don’t go much looking for them. I like a lot ”Disposable Heroes” by Metallica, that’s a very cool song, kind of an anti-war thing. But not so much. I listen right now to The Love Group, some Arthur Lee from the the 60’s in LA, or The Birds. But I’d like to hear more good songs in blues, hard rock or speed metal – whatever. Like “Stone Cold Fever”, that’s a great song. But that’s an old one, too. [Ed. Note: laughs]
But I don’t listen to the new stuff that much. And I think it’s also because classic radio in the US is just ridiculous. They’ve been playing the same 40 songs over and over for the last 50 years. It’s just amazing that people are so stupid and they keep listening to the same stuff. I mean, if I hear “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” from Pink Floyd [Ed. Note:Time”] I go “Oh, my God, are you really playing that song AGAIN???” And people seem to be fine with it. I don’t think they even give new artists a chance, like the bands that you mentioned. They don’t get airplay. Like I said, corporations are manufacturing things. You get all the silly stuff like Britney Spears, all this silly stuff like Jonas Brothers, all the silly crap. It would be nice to hear someone young playing along the lines of Led Zeppelin, but you have to go and hunt for it online.

Metalfan: One last thing. We usually ask our guests to name a couple of songs that have influenced them – personally and professionally. We can pick three as a number, but you can name more, the space is limitless, haha!
Woody Leffel: Wow… Uh, well, I’d say Bob Dylan. I think in 200 years from now, if this cloud of stuff is still hanging around, I think someone should pick up a book and read Bob Dylan’s lyrics. I don’t think people will remember all this stuff, but they should remember him. So Bob Dylan – “Highway 61”. And then “When The Music’s Over” by The Doors. Just… Wow! Amazing song! I just love kick-ass rock’n’roll. And there is this song “Hello” by Lee Michaels which, done alive, is just incredible. If there’s some guys out there that want to pick up a cover that you can really put to the wall – that’s “Hello” by Lee Michaels. And he’s an organ player, so if you do that with guitar and drive it, I think you got people listening to that. I also love blues, like Willie Dixon, from which Led Zeppelin took as much as they could get. There’s also Foreigner… Well, there’s a lot of good music.

Metalfan: Thank you very much for your time. In the end, it’s not a mandatory, but if you’d like to send any message for our readers, now is the time, haha!

Woody Leffel: I’d just like to say “Peace and love to all!

Autor: Tzugu, H., Gina S.
   June 07, 2017  | 0 Comments  | 6602 Views « BACK

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