documenting the optical sounds of '60s pop, Acid Punk & Psychedelia

The Lyrics: An interview with Ray Clearwater

I recently exchanged emails with Ray Clearwater who changed his name from Christopher Gaylord. Ray wrote, sang and played harmonica on their classic single “So What!!” / “They Can’t Hurt Me”

It’s an outstanding 60s garage double-sider and is rightly considered one of the best of the genre. I remember listening to ‘So What!!’ way back in the 80s (it was compiled on Pebbles – Volume 2) and couldn’t believe how pissed off the singer sounded. He was almost spitting the words right out of his mouth. The harmonica part was also one of the best I’d ever heard. What a fuckin’ song!!

The flip ‘They Can’t Hurt Me’ is also killer and I can remember buying Back From The Grave – Volume 2 the very next week because I’d be able to hear more Lyrics music. Thankfully this song was just as GREAT.

So here I am 25 years later and The Lyrics are still my favourite 60s garage band and this year I’ve corresponded with Dan Garcia and Chris Gaylord (now Ray Clearwater) from this amazing band – Sometimes I feel blessed.

I sent Ray a whole load of questions about his time in
The Lyrics and The Magic Mushroom. He provided some excellent information for which I’m very grateful.

1. How did you join The Lyrics? Did you already know the Garcia brothers for instance? Were you asked to join by them?

I joined The Lyrics to replace the keyboard player. I believe his name was Greg Leinhart (spelling?) but I’m not sure. I started playing guitar when I was about 12 years old, doing Johnny Cash and Ricky Nelson songs, but I knew a little bit of piano so they got me an electric piano and put me up on the stage.

The first song I sang with them was “Gloria” – and that’s where the singing started. I wore an earring and striped pants, a bit different than what the other members were used to.

2. Had you performed in any bands prior to The Lyrics?
‘So What!!’ and ‘They Can’t Hurt Me’ are very powerful songs. The words are full of anger and spite. What made you so pissed off to write these? Did you have any music influences here and what was your overall experience like in the band? I also read that you were sacked from The Lyrics?

‘So What!!’ and ‘They Can’t Hurt Me’, originally called ‘Sticks and Stones’, were big hits at the dances. Really got things rocking. It was Mike Allen that asked me to join the band. We were local kids that grew up playing music together from time to time.

I didn’t really know anyone else in the band. Funny thing is, it was Mike Allen again that asked me to join the Magic Mushroom, and again, I didn’t really know anyone else in that band.

The thing with the Lyrics manager, Harlan Peacock, was that he wanted to have full control of the band and Mike and I were really not the controllable type if you know what I mean. For God’s sake, we were just kids and this was OUR music. It was Rock and Roll – enough said?

Now I will give him credit for a few things that were very important. He did get us some good instruments, of course WE paid for them over time. He certainly did get us in the studio, Gold Star I believe it was, in Hollywood, with a guy named Don Ralky (spelling), and later on, he was very instrumental in getting me out of the draft. So, I can’t say he was all bad, it’s just that he didn’t understand the dynamics of the band. 

Mike was very important to that band and if you don’t mind me saying so, so was I. He failed to recognize either of these things, and little by little, the band became somewhat of a revolving door, with Danny, Billy and Craig being the heart of it. When you cut off a guy’s balls, the guy remains but he’s just not the same anymore.
That sums up what happened when Mike and I were forced out. I don’t mean to say that they were not a good band. I never heard them after I left but I was a fairly kick ass song writer and Mike was a great guitarist –

At the time I was kicked out, I was already doing my own thing as they say. Harlan, the manager, had already separated me from the band and they were backing me up. We were playing somewhere in La Jolla I believe, and I had just returned from a trip up to San Francisco.

I came back wearing sandals, a turtle neck sweater and a boat captain’s hat with a bunch of buttons with sayings on them pinned to it. Harlan didn’t like what I was wearing and he told me that I needed to shape up or ship out. I opted for the later. I should have seen this coming but alas, it was over before I knew it.

3. Can you remember much about the recording of your songs and were you happy with the results. Also did you have any more original material at this point in time?

With regards to the record, when we went up to Hollywood to record ‘So What!!’ and ‘They Can’t Hurt Me’, the studio used another drummer and another lead guitar player.

So the truth is, what you hear on the record was me playing the harp and singing, another band member named Steve Kayler (spelling) singing back up, and I really don’t remember who played bass if it wasn’t Danny. They used the studio guys to punch up the record.

I had been in bands since I was 13 or so. Played at the Junior High assemblies and some street dances to begin with and then went on to High School Dances and parties. Started writing songs early on.

Anyway, they asked me to play in the Lyrics and little by little, I had a bit of influence on how things were done. I was a solid Stones fan and I took them in that direction. We did play other songs of mine but at this point, I don’t remember what they were.

I seem to remember there being some bad feelings about this but personally, I was happy with the record. Why wouldn’t I be? It was my music and me playing the harp and singing. We all thought we were on our way to the big time.

We did some other recordings at a small studio in San Marcos, CA. but I don’t remember if that was before or after the Hollywood thing. I do remember that I had written some songs that were more along the lines of The Byrds songs and that was the first time we did vocal overdubbing. Sounded pretty cool. I really wish I had those tapes now.

As for why I was so angry in my songs – I really don’t know. I wrote both of those songs to (or at) a girl I was going with at the time. Her family had a very nice home and two refrigerators and all kinds of things that I had never seen and I was dirt poor and came from a very low income environment.

Raised by my grandmother on a small ranch in Cardiff, CA. I was pretty much of a punk. I certainly had my share of trouble in High School, was in Juvenile Hall for a bit, and I guess you might say I had somewhat of a BAD ATTITUDE – at any rate, if you add that up with the fact that I was attempting to be a Rolling Stone kind of guy, in conjunction with a Bob Dylan kind of guy, you get anger and resentment.

On top of this, my mother, who I had hardly known, passed away during my time with The Lyrics, and I never knew my father, so at that point I was basically on my own, taking out my frustrations on my girlfriend and throwing microphones around the stage.

I guess it helped to act all of these things out but I can’t say I had a lot of friends. I really didn’t hang with the guys in the band much. Actually, I don’t remember being all that angry, I just liked to write that kind of song, and it seemed to work for everybody else so there it is.

4. You later joined The Magic Mushroom. How did things go with them?

As for the Magic Mushroom, I can’t tell you much. They asked me to join and we immediately flew off to New York. We stayed with their manager Mike Friedman and he stayed with his girlfriend.

I came up with the name, Love Special Delivery but I don’t remember why. I think they were looking for a new name due to some contractual obligations or something but again, the name was changed shortly after I got to New York. Of course the name was a take on LSD.

We only played three or four jobs in New York and we really weren’t very good. We just sort of played some easy stuff and jammed a lot as I remember. I really didn’t know their songs, being the new guy, so we did what we could.

After a couple of months, we met a woman named Susan McCusker (spelling) and she was hooked up with a guy that said if we cut a record he could get it played in lots of stations in different cities.

We smelled the big money and left Mike Friedman to do this thing with Susan. She set up a recording session with Les Paul at his home in Mahwah, New Jersey.

His son Rusty came out to the train station in his big Caddy and picked us up. We recorded three of my songs that night and honest to God, there were people there with suits and ties and harps and violins. It was insane – I mean, I was just a kid from nowhere at Les Paul’s house recording music.

The songs we recorded were – ‘If You Care’, a very slow love song, ‘Plastic Man’, and ‘Night Time’ – all my songs and sung by me. I remember being so moved by the strings on ‘If You Care’, I went outside and started to cry. No one could figure out what was wrong with me. Anyway, as I understand it, Susan never paid Les Paul for the tapes so they were never released.

It was close to Christmas and John Buell, Carl Conte and Mike Allen went home to California. for the Christmas holidays. Mike Lowther and I remained in New York.

We were broke but fortunately, Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen, the folks that put out Broadside Magazine, allowed us to stay with them for a while until we were able to rent a very small apartment in Greenwich Village.

Carl never came back, John and Mike Allen did but at that point, the four of us in a small apartment with no money just didn’t work and Susan and basically dumped us on our own.

I finally bailed and flew back to California. I was extremely lonely and broke in New York City and totally disappointed with all that had happened. The only up side to this was that while Mike Lowther and I were staying with Sis and Gordon, they published three of my songs and later on, one of the songs that I had recorded on a small recorder at their apartment turned up on the Best Of Broadside compilation.

Many years later, they wrote a book and said something very nice about me, comparing me to Dylan – well just a bit.

This CD collection titled ‘The Best Of Broadside 1962-1988’ contains a Chris Gaylord folk song called ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’….

The band got back together for a little bit after we returned from New York but it didn’t last long. John and I went on to join up with a great songwriter named Bob McFarland and we formed a three piece group called Baptized By Fire – we played a few jobs in the San Diego area, did some demos and then split up –

An interesting side note here is that Mike Friedman went on to work with Albert Grossman. If we had stuck with him who know what would have happened. That’s show business! I did get together with Mike again in California. and he set up a recording session in Hollywood but I don’t remember where.

He was working with the Nazz at that time and I was there for their first recording. I recorded a few of my songs at the session he set up but that never came to anything – just fizzled out over a period of months.

Hope this helps out – you have to remember this Rock and Roll is in the blood. I grew up with it and even though it starts out as attitude, it’s more than that in the end. Most of us during the 60s didn’t really read all that much but we ALL listened to music 24/7, and this was our bible, our news, our direction and the dictate of our social position.

It taught us to question, almost like an extended lesson in logic. We had been fed, and were continuing to be handed a bunch of lies and false expectations. The war brought this to a head and by the time 1970 came around, the world had changed forever.

I’m glad to have been a part of that in some small way.

Ray playing the organ

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