Larry Raspberry Interview
Do you remember the song "Keep on Dancing"? If you do, you remember
the group that recorded it — The Gentrys.
We spoke with The Gentrys' lead singer Larry Raspberry about his
Q. Larry, as I recall, The Gentrys made an appearance on Ted Mack's
A. A while back. (Laughs). It's funny to grow up and then realize that's
something that's totally lost on today's generation. They can relate a little
to t.v. when you start talking about Hullabaloo and Shindig, but when you
talk about a talent show on television, if you weren't in that age group...
that was the last chapter of that television show. It went off the air a
few years after that. It wasn't a front running show even by the time we
got on it. It was just part of the local city and state fairs big prize.
You got to be on a nationwide hook-up.
Q. When you appeared on the show, was "Keep on Dancing" out
as a single?
A. If you were to draw a success curve of The Gentrys, it started in our
junior year of high school. And then, the curve took a rapid ascension,
from that junior year of high school until the end of 1965. 1963 to 1965
would've been the formative local years, when we got real committed to being
English looking guys and playing like English guys and really turning into
British clones to fulfill the needs of our audience there. We put out a
local record called "Sometimes I Cry" on Chips Moman's label.
And what happened is all things began to overlap. Our little rise to fame
took place in the summer, between our junior and senior year. In our senior
year, we won this fair talent show which in turn, sent us to Ted Mack's
Amateur Hour. And, while we were doing three Ted Mack's shows over the course
of the next nine months, we started recording. It seems like two of those
shows were in Miami, and you had to win to come back. We won two. The third
one was in New York. When we were in New York, we were pretty gonzoed out
Southern long-hairs by then. We already had "Keep on Dancing" out
in the Memphis market. It was June or July of '65. We had "Keep on
Dancing" out on a local label and it was really doing well. So, what
happened is almost a movie style chronology — we shot the Ted Mack
Amateur Hour. We came home. We got an offer from MGM to pick up the contract
on "Keep on Dancing" and put it out. The Ted Mack Amateur Hour
realized they couldn't quite claim us as three time winners who went on
to bigger things, 'cause we already had a record contract. But, we did win
that third time on Ted Mack. By the Fall of'65 "Keep on Dancing" was
a Top Ten Record.
Q. Why didn't you have a follow-up to "Keep on Dancing"?
A. We worked with a man who's been praised as a very brilliant producer — Chips
Moman. We were Chips Moman's first Top Ten record act. The music he
knew and understood had very little to do with what The Gentrys recorded. "Keep
on Dancing" was kind of a fluke. We were recording in kind of a country
meets R and B kind of thing not unlike a lot of artists of that day. Chips
really understood R and B and country, because he helped put Stax Records
together. He didn't understand much about this wild British garage stuff
we played. He didn't appreciate it and he didn't like it. I don't say that
to make him look like a villain. He wasn't. He was just a guy who couldn't
understand it. We wanted to do "Latin Lupe De Lu" by the Righteous
Bros, and The Kingsmen. We wanted to do "Gloria" by Them. We wanted
to do "You Make Me Feel So Good" by The Zombies. We ultimately
ended up recording that song but it was far down in our career and it was
a little too late really. We also had a couple of records that really could've,
sort of happened, that we actually recorded. One song was called "Brown
Paper Sack" and it was the B side, the flip side to the follow up to "Keep
on Dancing". There was another tune called "Look Straight Thru
You” that made the albums that really were pretty 'in', as far as
what we were supposed to be doing. But, we never could get past the difference
of taste with our producer.
Q. What did you think of the Bay City Rollers version
A. It's the one I've never heard. I say I never heard it. Maybe I did.
I can't really comment. The writer of "Keep on Dancing" is a wealthy
man because of things like Bay City Rollers.
Q. How serious were The Gentrys about making a living as musicians?
A. We had a group of parents who really encouraged us to get the most
out of this band. They seeded us with a little bit of money. They helped
us buy some gear when we needed it. They actually drove us when we were
too young to go to gigs out of town. They weren't what you would call stage
parents. We were never under heavy pressure. They never took us to the side
and brow beat us like coaches. They were simply loving people that, if we
wanted to do this, if it kept us off the streets if you will, it was socially
acceptable, there was nowhere for teenagers to go in the South in the 60's,
they encouraged us. Then, when this got big enough to start competing with
our college and with real American dream future, we got kind of a split
vote from our parents. We got kind of a split vote from our girlfriends
too. We did have kind of a philosophical split in that this was national
recognition. It was money. I don't think that deep down anybody thought
they would be entertainers for life. I think there was some kind of
self-fulfilling prophecy to that. I think if we'd been in it for the long
haul, we might have been prone to be a little more visible in the big cities.
We thought we'd make enough money and exit all of this. I recall a decision
we made one time not to take a Dick Clark Where The Action Is tour, because
it only paid about $300 a night and we had to furnish our own transportation,
and our own hotel. So, by the time you subtracted even moving around by
car and paying $35 which is what you could get two Holiday Inn rooms
for back in those days, you still didn't end up with a lot of money. We
were a group that was so hot in Alabama, Georgia, red-dirt circuit that
we could make $750-$ 1,200 a night, playing four nights a week in the South.
And, we opted to go for the money.
Q. What was it like to be on the road back in 1965, 1966?
A. The jewel of my career in all of what is is that I literally entered
the recording business when it was a very undefined life-style. Whatever
worked is what you did. Today, it's almost a corporate force. It's definitely
this theme song at the corporate level, all the way down to the elevators
you get into in the buildings. I've watched it go from a time when we'll
be able to sit home and telephone in our recording parts before we, to a
time when you all had to be there at the same time in a mono studio, which
is when I began doing it. It was actually pretty wonderful. It was like
the movies. Picture graduating from high school, getting into a brand new
Pontiac Bonneville, putting a trailer on the back, which didn't have any
kind of cheesy connotations to our little naive eyes, and seven of us driving
around the country, wherever we wanted to go, wherever we could get a booking.
We just did whatever we wanted to do. I was almost a pre-narcotic time of
music. Most of the band didn't do a lot of drinking. There was some hassle
connected with drinking below the age of 21. Basically, the band was a pretty
stable bunch of guys. So, if you went tack, and really chronicled what they
did, compared to what they could have done, compared to what's been done,
it was a fairly sedate lifestyle. But, it taught you to count on your brothers.
It's a lot like the end of Neil Simon's play, "Biloxi Blues",
where he says, "I hated all those guys back then, but now I really
love 'em." I really could relate to that statement. There was a great
deal of in-fighting that was cold war and subliminal and mostly had to do
with girls and egos, and who wore the same clothes, who got the most applause,
who wrote about who in the paper the day after the gig, But you know, mostly
we hung together like comrades, and we were buddies and we really did end
up having some pretty good times in that car moving down the road. I look
back on that as kind of a Golden Era. I'm still friends with every one of
those guys. I probably don't have any more in common with them than I did
then. I think we all realized it was a special time. It was five years
of camaraderie, of being thrown together with a common cause.
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