An article I wrote for ‘Westcoast In Session’ magazine in 2010.
It’s Gonna Be Alright
by John Batdorf
Silver, the band whose vocal harmonies had no cause to be jealous of major acts like Eagles, CSN&Y or America, despised the one hit they had. It didn’t stop their debut album, some 30 years later, from being looked upon by fans as a gem epitomising the californian sound of the mid 70’s. John Batdorf, founder of the group, tells us more about this shooting Silver star
1. Musician (it’s not an easy life)
2. All I wanna do
4. No Wonder
5. Trust in Somebody
6. It’s gonna be Alright
8. Wham Bam
9. Right on Time
10. Goodbye, So Long
I was born in Springfield, Ohio on March 26, 1952 and musically it all came together for me in the ’60s when I first saw the Beatles.
I knew at that moment that music was what I was meant to do. Self-taught, except for a year of sight-singing courses in 1983 at the Dick Grove School of Music, my earliest musical influences were my dad and my uncle, but it was the British Invasion that really changed everything for me. My father, Jack Batdorf, was a musician and I performed with him in clubs from around the age of five singing material like Blue Suede Shoes and Hound Dog, a natural part of my upbringing which led to me being in bands all my life.
At the age of 15, as part of The Luv’d Ones, a top band in Dayton, we drove cross-country from Ohio to California to seek fame and fortune. We auditioned for Atlantic and signed a record deal but the record never got made. I kicked around LA for a few years and then decided it was time for a change of scenery so I drove to Nevada with my girlfriend and moved in with her parents.
I met eventual music partner Mark Rodney in Las Vegas in the summer of 1970 while performing at a coffee house on the University of Las Vegas (UNLV) campus called The Kitchen. Our duo, Batdorf & Rodney, got a deal while auditioning live for Ahmet Ertegen at the Beverly Hills Hotel in December of 1970. Atlantic Records signed us the next day. There was never a tape demo; Batdorf & Rodney were signed on the strength of our ability to perform and write songs. After a five-year run with Batdorf and Rodney, I started the band Silver in 1976. The way this came about follows.
The duo Batdorf and Rodney was signed to Arista Records in late 1974 and released an album, Life Is You, in 1975. We had recorded two other albums in 71 and 72 on Atlantic and Asylum Records. The Arista album had a top 100 hit, You Are A Song, but we could never crack the top 20 with a hit song from any of our albums. Clive Davis thought the group was one hit away from being a major act. Batdorf and Rodney always got heavy FM radio play but our music was scarcely on AM radio.
“I pleaded with Clive to let us do Somewhere in the Night but not Wham Bam, but I lost that battle.”
Clive approached us with two songs that he thought were slam dunk hits. One being, Somewhere in the Night and the other Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang. Personally, I didn’t want to record other peoples’ songs but Clive was the boss. I really liked Somewhere in the Night but I didn’t like Wham Bam at all.
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
Mark and I were with management heavyweights, Jon Hartmann and Harlan Goodman who also managed America, Poco, Wendy Waldman, Steve Ferguson and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The problem was, Mark and my relationship was so strained that it was really hard to continue as a duo. We had scheduled a meeting with Clive to play him the new songs but we never had that meeting. I decided the day before that I no longer wanted to continue the relationship with Mark. I really wanted to start something fresh, so Clive gave me two weeks to put something together. The previous year, we had added the late Brent Mydland as keyboardist /singer to the group. I thought he was great. I met another singer songwriter at a party a few weeks before and his name was Greg Collier. He had a great vocal sound and wrote some cool songs. The three of us got together and worked up each others songs and there really was a magical blend with the voices.
FOUR LEAD SINGERS
The three of us continued to write and rehearse but our management wanted to make it a five-piece so we would be a band. We tried out John Mauceri and Rick Carlos who were the drummer and bass player for B&R but it didn’t work out. John and Harlan knew a couple of guys that they wanted to try out so we said let’s do it. The first was drummer, Harry Stinson who was from Nashville and the bass player was Tom Leadon from Gainesville, Florida. Harry had subbed for America for a while and they really liked him and so did we. He was a cool guy and played and sang great. Tom had been in a band with Tom Petty for years in Florida and quit to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood. Tom’s brother Bernie was in the Eagles and everyone thought that was a good marketing plan for the band which at this point had no name. We went to see Eric Carmen at The Roxy, who was great by the way, with Arista A&R man, Bob Fiden. We were kicking around names and he came up with Silver and that was that.
THE WEE HOURS SESSIONS
We chose Indigo Ranch, a studio out near Malibu, to record the tracks and vocals. It was a beautiful ranch in the mountains overlooking the ocean. The band, except for Tom, stayed there and recorded into the wee hours of the morning, woke up and went right back at it. It was interesting for me after all those years as Batdorf and Rodney, just to kind of do my part to make the band sound good. I sang lead on three songs and unison lead vocals with Harry and Brent at times. After a week or so, the basic tracks had been cut as well as most of the vocals. As we were breaking camp, Arista released Wham Bam and it really started moving up the charts very quickly. I didn’t know if we were blessed or cursed. We finished up with the overdubs at Sound Labs in Hollywood, and United Western is where the orchestral overdubs were cut. The album was mixed at Sound Labs late that summer and the self-titled Silver album was released. The album cover was designed by Jon’s brother, the late Phil Hartmann, who was designing album covers prior to his stardom as a comedian.
By that time the single was in the top twenty and it was time to hit the road. Our managers put us on tour with America and they were huge at that time. Their greatest hits album was out and we performed at huge outdoor venues across the US. Silver opened the show and John Sebastian played right before America. Every show was sold out.
ON TOUR WITH AMERICA
America had their own plane and when we left LA, the plan was for us to share their plane for the whole tour but after our first gig, we were booted off and had to fly commercial. I was so pissed. Being on that plane was incredible. We drank beer and played poker among other things. America seemed to like us but we got the boot anyway. We were never given a reason but I always had a hunch. Dan Peeks’ wife traveled on the plane with us and either she didn’t like the fact that we were on the plane or Dan didn’t like us talking to her, but whatever the case, we were off the plane but still on the tour!
Silver really went over great. Wham Bam had peaked at #16 and many in the audience had heard us on the radio. The record was #3 in LA. Every big AM station in America was playing us except for two major AM radio powers, otherwise it would have clearly been top 5. We remained on the road for about three weeks with a few more to go.
Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver was one we were really looking forward to. After every show, back at the hotel, I sat in on the poker games that were clearly over my head. America played a game called “Eagle Poker” and it was costly if you lost. The games went on late into the night. America had their own plane so they could leave whenever ; unlike us! We had many a 7 AM flight to get to the next town.
America had been successful for so many years they almost seemed bored with their stardom. The real excitement was when the card games started. After a show in the midwest, rumor has it that one of the members of America decided it would be cool to drive to the next gig, Red Rocks, with the truck drivers who drove all night. Don’t ask me why but he ended up getting sick and we had to cancel Red Rocks as well as the rest of the tour. Mo Ostin, president of Warner Brothers, was coming to the Red Rocks show. America’s deal was up and after that episode, Warner Brothers chose not to re-sign them. Dan Peek was soon kicked out of the band and Dewey and Gerry went on to record as a duo on their new label, Capitol.
THE SECOND ALBUM…
That hit wasn’t Silver, it was Clive and we had no credibility as an act because of such a weak bubble gum hit. As a matter of fact, on my new solo CD that will be released in the spring of 2009, I have a song entitled Old Man Dreamin’ which is a bit of an autobiography about my career. In the first verse I sing these lines: “Through the years I made some fans, then I struck gold with the Silver Band…. Wham Bam… Four decades later and, that one big hit I still can’t stand!”
It’s true that having that hit was something I will always have have regrets about. Selling out didn’t exactly work out for Silver, but at least it wasn’t Batdorf and Rodney.
GOODBYE, SO LONG
In the early 80s, I started my new career as a session singer singing on hundreds of commercials, several movies, records and TV main titles like Tom And Jerry Kids, Darkwing Duck, Garfield and Friends, Doctor Doctorand Promised Land. In the mid 90s I got my first network composing job for Promised Land, which lasted three seasons, and four more with Touched By An Angel.
In 2004, I started recording again and made a CD with James Lee Stanley, All Wood And Stones, and was back on the road.
Since then, I have made two solo CDs and a Live At XM RadioCD with Mark Rodney.
As mentioned before, I am currently recording a new solo CD scheduled for a spring 2009 release on my own label, “BatMac Music”.