The Electric Prunes

Electric PrunesFrom: Los Angeles, CA, USA

The Electric Prunes are an American rock band who first achieved international attention as an experimental psychedelic group in the late 1960s. The band performed its 1966 hit song “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” on American Bandstand. The band is also recognized for the song “Kyrie Eleison,” which was featured on the soundtrack of Easy Rider. After a period in which they had little control over their music, they disbanded for 30 years. In 1999 the band reformed, by 2001 the members resumed recording and touring and are still currently active.

Origin

The group started in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, though during the group’s long disbandment, rumors circulated that they were from Seattle. Their first hit was discovered by Seattle disk jockey Pat O’Day at KJR (AM) and was very popular in that city before it broke into the national charts. The founding members, Ken Williams (guitar), James Lowe (lead vocal, autoharp), Michael Weakley and eventually Joe Dooley (drums) and Mark Tulin (bass) called themselves The Sanctions, and later, Jim and the Lords. Soon, Dick Hargrave joined on organ, but left shortly afterwards to pursue graphic arts. Their lineup changed many times, including one lineup with Kenny Loggins.

Lowe, Tulin, Williams and Weakley were introduced to David Hassinger, then resident engineer at RCA studios, who arranged for them to record some demos at Leon Russell’s home recording facility (which he called Sky Hill Studios). Hassinger also suggested they needed a new name. In response, the band produced a long list of suggestions, with ‘The Electric Prunes’ last as a joke.

A single “Ain’t It Hard/Little Olive” was released from these sessions, and flopped.

Early success

The Prunes’ next single, “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” (1966), was chosen from material Hassinger culled from the established songwriting team of Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz. It remains their highest charting success, reaching 11 in the USA and 49 in the UK. Personnel included Jim Lowe on vocals, James “Weasel” Spagnola and Ken Williams on guitar, Mark Tulin on bass and Preston Ritter on drums. This is regarded by many as the classic Prunes lineup.

Electric PrunesTheir third single, “Get Me to the World on Time”, was also successful but less so, peaking at 27 in the USA and 42 in the UK Singles Chart. Both their first album, The Electric Prunes: I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) (1967) and consisting mainly of Tucker/Mantz material, and the followup Underground (1967) which featured mainly original Prunes material, charted in the lower reaches of the Billboard charts.

By the time Underground was complete, there had been several more personnel changes. Original drummer Weakley returned to replace Ritter, and Spagnola was replaced on guitar by Mike Gannon, who appears on only two songs. Their fourth single, “Everybody Knows You’re Not In Love”, was recorded by this lineup, but did not appear on this album.

The Axelrod period

At the suggestion of manager Lenny Poncher, the Prunes’s third album, Mass in F Minor (1968), was a psychedelicized setting of the Mass, written and produced by David Axelrod. Initial work on the arrangements was done by Mark Tulin, but it became clear during the recording that Axelrod’s intentions outstripped the band’s technical abilities, Jim Lowe commenting that “David Axelrod was so far above what we, as a garage band, were able to deliver.” The band reportedly broke up during the recording, and Axelrod completed the album using Canadian band The Collectors and session musicians. A tour had been planned to follow the album release, but it was cancelled after one disastrous show at which it was obvious that the Prunes could not play the music, some of which they had seen for the first time only a few days before the concert. Nevertheless, the album became somewhat of an underground favorite. “Kyrie Eleison” from this record was used to back the dinner scene wherein Billy was trying to convince a grief-stricken Captain America to go to Mardi Gras in the movie Easy Rider.

This was followed by Release of An Oath (1968), another religious-themed work composed and arranged by Axelrod, this time combining Jewish and Christian liturgy. It was produced by David Hassinger using top session musicians for all instruments, backing the Prunes’s vocal work. By this time, the original band had split up and Hassinger formed a new group, comprising Richard Whetstone, John Herron and Mark Kincaid, who had all been in a Colorado band called Climax, and Brett Wade from another of Hassinger’s groups, The Collectors. This group was augmented by leading session musicians including Howard Roberts, Carol Kaye and Earl Palmer for the recording.

“The New Improved” Electric Prunes

The following album Just Good Old Rock and Roll (1969) was recorded by the same group of musicians, who had been assigned the Prunes’s name, although according to James Lowe the name was not legally owned by Hassinger. The album cover read ‘the new improved Electric Prunes’ to reflect the new lineup, although the group name remained the same. This band toured and also released a single on Reprise Records in 1969, but dissolved early in 1970.

Reissues and reformation

Through the inclusion of their classic “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)” on the seminal Nuggets compilation of 1960s psychedelic gems the Electric Prunes continued to reach new fans in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. That track in particular has been a regular of psychedelic bands through the decades including Australia’s Prince Vlad & the Gargoyle Impalers in the early-to-mid 1980s. The track was recorded by psychedelic punks The Damned in the 1980s, under their alter ego of Naz Nomad and the Nightmares, and was also a feature of The Damned’s live set in the mid-1980s. XTC, recording under the name Dukes of Stratosphear also paid homage to the song on their song “25 O’Clock” which emulates the style of the song. It was also recorded by Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks for their album Doo Dad, and featured in the “trip” sequence in Webb’s movie Horror Hayride. A Patrick Cowley-produced Hi-NRG version, simply entitled “Too Much to Dream”, was released in 1983 by Paul Parker as part of an album of the same name.

The late 1990s saw renewed interest in the Electric Prunes, with the release on Heartbeat Records of Stockholm, a concert recorded by the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation while the (original) Prunes were on tour there in 1967. Heartbeat also issued an early collection of recordings by The Sanctions and Jim and The Lords, recovered from unplayed 35-year-old acetates.

After a period of 30 years, the original quartet of Lowe, Tulin, Williams and Weakley met in the studio in 1999 to consider a revival. As a result Lowe, Tulin and Williams (the three who had played on all the early recordings) were joined by two new members, including James Lowe’s son, to reform the band. They began touring internationally in 2001, and in 2002 released a new recording titled Artifact and a DVD album called Rewired.

Continuing the momentum in 2007, the trio of Lowe, Tulin, and Williams released a new CD entitled Feedback.

In 2007, the rock band The Verve ran the track “Holy Are You” before their concerts.

They were mentioned in Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel Inherent Vice (pg. 103) and receive a shoutout from James Murphy in the LCD Soundsystem single “Losing My Edge.”

The band is now recording and touring with a new drummer, Walter Garces. They are currently recording new tracks with musician and producer Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins.

On February 26, 2011, founding member Tulin collapsed while helping out at the Avalon Underwater Clean-Up in Avalon, California. Baywatch Avalon and Avalon Fire Department medics responded immediately, but he could not be revived and was pronounced dead. Since Tulin’s death, there have been no public activities by the band. ~ Wikipedia

Band members

James Lowe – vocals, guitar, harmonica, autoharp (1965–1968) (1999–present)
Ken Williams – guitar (1965–1968) (1999–present)
Steve Kara – guitar, vocals (2003–present)
Jay Dean – guitar, vocals (2004–present)
Walter Garces – drums, vocals (2006–present)

Former members

Dick Hargraves (1965–1965)
Steve Acoff (1965–1965)
Preston Ritter (1966–1966)
James Spagnola (1966–1967)
Mike Gannon (1967–1968)
Jeromy Stuart (1968–1968)
Kenny Loggins (1968–1968)
John Herron (1968–1970)
Brett Wade (1968–1970)
Ron Morgan (1969–1970)
Mark Kincaid (1968–1970)
Dick Whetstone (1968–1970)
Mike Weakley (1965–1966) (1967–1967) (2001–2001)
Cameron Lowe (2001–2003)
Mark Moulin (2001–2004)
Joe Dooley (1967–1968) (2001–2006)
Mark Tulin (1965–1968) (1999–2011)


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Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1966 single Reprise 0473

  • Ain’t It Hard
  • Little Olive

From the 1967 album I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)
I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)

  • Are You Loving Me More (But Enjoying It Less)
  • Bangles
  • Get Me To The World On Time
  • I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)
  • I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) [Stereo]
  • Train For Tomorrow
  • Try Me On For Size

From the 1967 album Underground
underground

  • Children Of Rain
  • Hideaway
  • I Happen To Love You
  • Long Day’s Flight
  • The Great Banana Hoax

From the 1968 album Release Of An Oath
release-of-an-oath

  • General Confessional

From the 1968 album Mass In F Minor
mass-in-f-minor

  • Kyrie Eleison/Mardi Gras

From the 1968 single Reprise 0805
the-electric-prunes-%e2%80%8e-hey-mr-president-flowing-smoothly

  • Flowing Smoothly
  • Hey Mr. President

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