[Here is my version of the history of the Velvet Illusions, for hard-core fans, journalists and other crazy people. I sometimes use the term, “we”, herein, because it’s easier. But this is my story – the Velvet Illusions as seen by “Jimmie James”. I was there from the beginning, and I’ve worked very hard, for a long time, to wring some success out of our collective efforts.]
The Velvet Illusions had a brush with fame; but we broke up before we hit the big time. However, as we near the year 2020, the band seems to be more popular than ever!
Our story happens in the past, but also in the present. While we performed and recorded in the 1960’s, our retrospective CD, “Acid Head”, is widely available for purchase on the internet, and cuts from it are being aired on Pandora, Psychedelicized Radio, podcasts and broadcast radio. We have a large presence on YouTube. New Velvet Illusions interviews and articles are being published all the time. And, we just released something that collectors will have to fight to get their hands upon: a limited-edition retrospective LP, entitled “Velvet Illusions”, on Moi J’Cannois Records. The North American continental distributor is Seattle, Washington’s Light In The Attic Records.
While the Velvet Illusions traveled from Yakima, Washington to Hollywood, California and back, our records and legend have traveled around the world! Ask any psych/garage collector if they have our material. Watch them pull out a copy of the Grammy-nominated LA Nuggets set on Rhino. — Or a Pebbles CD.
Perhaps they’ll have a decades-old copy of “Acid Dreams”, which contains two of our songs, or the new, updated one, called “Acid Dreams – The Complete 3 LP Set”. Perhaps they’ll have our Tune In CD release. But if they’re really lucky, they’ll have one of our 45’s, which go for as high as $1,800 on the secondary market.
Our songs, especially our theme song, “Velvet Illusions”, have been covered by bands world-wide, including Spain’s Phantom Keys and Italy’s Head and the Hares. In the 1980’s, the Austrian group Running Stream released a cover of our infamous “Acid Head”. Young people produce amazing videos incorporating our music, and then upload them to YouTube. We have an entry in the legendary book, “Fuzz, Acid and Flowers”, published by Vernon Joynson. We gained a mention in the scholarly tome, “Sixties Rock”, published by Michael Hicks in 1999. Our artifacts are contained in Seattle, Washington’s Experience Music Project’s archives. We’re known to collectors as a “Lost California Psychedelic Band”. In reality, we were from the small agricultural town of Yakima, Washington!
The Velvet Illusions were quintessential outsiders. We were even outsiders in Yakima! While other bands dressed like Paul Revere and the Raiders, we sported a set of distinctive velvet uniforms, and a set of rhythm and blues-styled threads. On that note, our set list included songs featuring the Motown/R&B sound. Most of our competitors were covering English groups, while we covered more American groups; plus we soon came up with our own material. Our original songs also betrayed our outsider status: we sang of scenes which we were not a part of. We sang of watching hippies, not being hippies. We wrote of people involved in drug use, employing terms of speech that totally exposed our straight-arrow habits. Eventually, we landed like aliens in the La La Land of Hollywood, in the Summer of Love, 1967.
In 1966, Chuck Funk (rhythm guitar), George Radford (saxophones), and I, Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles (lead guitar and vocals) started jamming at the Radford family upholstery shop. Chuck and I had jammed, just the two of us, at his house a few times, and he suggested he introduce me to George. So the three of us began jamming. George Radford, Sr., George’s dad, heard us playing around. He offered to manage us, and to outfit us in velvet.
Forming the core group: Instead of calling ourselves The Illusions, as we had originally intended, we could be the Velvet Illusions. Mr. Radford said we would have the finest equipment. We went for it. He recruited enough members to form a core group, grabbing singer and organ player Steve Weed from the Shy Guys, and a tall, friendly bassist named Larry Linse, who was nicknamed “Lurch”. We acquired a great drummer who could play any beat, with flair, Danny Wagner. We got tight and played a few shows around town. With Steve and me trading off on lead vocals, we offered our listeners a lot of variety. — Because Steve and I had such different styles. But we were able to blend our styles and come up with something new and different. Soon, Chuck Funk had to drop out, because his folks owned the popular Fruitvale Drive In, and he was needed there. I was sorry to see him go. We were close; plus, I had a huge crush on his older sister Sandy. I knew with Chuck out of the picture, Sandy would be out of the picture, too. However, I was also sweet on the beautiful Marla, George Radford’s sister!
Chuck was replaced by another of my besties, Yakima guitarist Danny Wohl. Practically the entire Wohl family played music. Danny basically grew up with a guitar in his hands. And, we added a truly gifted lead guitarist, Dewayne Russel, who could play anything from country to psychedelic music. I had been the young band’s sole lead guitar player; but when we brought Dewayne into the fold, we added a “big gun”.
After participating in a couple of our recordings, which we made in Seattle, WA at Audio Recording, “Lurch” bowed out, because he was in the military reserves. He needed to devote his time to that endeavor. (I have Lurch to thank for turning me on to the great Indian sitar player, Ravi Shankar. Hearing Ravi’s music really opened my mind to many musical possibilities! I remember riding with Lurch as we made our way to Seattle, to record. He kept Ravi’s music on the entire way. I was astounded by it.) Since Lurch had to leave, another Shy Guy took his place on bass: Dale Larrison, a young guy who really knew his way around the bass. This became the group of boys who recorded most of the Velvet Illusions records. Our lineup was solidified.
We began acquiring Vox equipment. We were a “Vox Band”. I remember Mr. Radford showing us a letter of congratulations he had received from Vox. As you can glean from our photo, we had as much Vox equipment as any band: three Super Beatle amps, a Continental organ, Vox Royal Guardsman P.A. speakers and various Vox guitars, including a Mando Guitar. It‘s been repeatedly stated in the media, and even by the company which released our CD, that Vox sponsored us. — Not. We worked hard to pay for our equipment. — We lead guitarists used Mosrite guitars, including a beautiful double-neck model which our superb guitar slinger, Dewayne Russell, played. We wound up with much of the same gear as Paul Revere and the Raiders; although we felt our guitars were better than theirs. Vox guitars had cool shapes, but Mosrites played and sounded better. Saxman George Radford used at least three saxophones in the band.
We kept very busy playing or practicing, seven-days-a-week. We even helped reupholster old couches and easy chairs in the Radford’s shop, selling them to help finance the band. We often rented west Yakima’s Nob Hill Grange, where we threw DIY dances and battles of the bands. We usually contracted with a legendary Yakima group, Chuck Gregory’s Fluorescents, to battle us. (Ironically, in 1972, I wound up fronting a country-rock band called Buckwheat, which was made up of Mr. Gregory on bass, the Fluorescents’ drummer Stan Ruehlow, and myself on guitar and vocals.)
We made television appearances and did in-store performances. We appeared along with the New Yorkers, who later changed their name to the Hudson Brothers, on Steve Montgomery’s Yakima TV program, “Summer Wild Thing”. — Mark Hudson, one of the Hudson Brothers, went on to produce many of Ringo Starr’s records; his daughter is Kate Hudson. Her mother is Goldie Hawn.
One day, we Velvet Illusions traveled to La Grande, Oregon, Steve Weed’s home town, to receive the “key to the city”, where we were met by dozens of cute girls at a menswear shop in-store, who were eager to have our autographs. We pinned Velvet Illusions ribbons to their blouses. Later, we boys talked about how we felt like real rock stars! That night, we played to perhaps a thousand La Grande teens. (We were polite boys, and always did well with the female set. When we relocated to Hollywood, a group of sweet girls formed a Velvet Illusions fan club.)
Why did we not play in the Seattle area, since it was a big town, and a hotbed of Northwest music? Well, we were contemplating a decision to go south, instead. Way south!
We were versatile. In addition to performing rock music, we could don suits and ties and play ballroom dance music, although we didn’t want to. I remember playing a Democratic Party event in Yakima, which was held in honor of then-Governor Albert Rosellini. We watched from the stage as people in suits and gowns stared back at us. I must say, we preferred playing rock music, for our own age group.
Our young keyboard phenom/vocalist Steve Weed was writing songs; plus we acquired compositions from other writers, including the Northwest legend, rockabilly guitarist Jerry Merritt, a former member of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps. Jerry became our music adviser. We made several trips to Seattle, to Audio Recording, where we recorded around nine sides. (To the best of my memory, we recorded some songs, including “Bigfoot”, which was written about the Sasquatch craze, “Grow Up Young Man”, and “Lonely Girl”, which have not surfaced since approximately 1966. I cannot speak to their existence, one way or the other.)
The ten surviving sides which wound up on our CD, and later, our LP, include “Acid Head”, featuring Steve Weed singing of a girl who descended into a personal hell of drug addiction. Its flip side, “She Was The Only Girl”, was written and sung by Steve in the tradition of “Last Kiss” and “Leader Of The Pack”. He almost weeps as he describes his helpless longing for his true love, who has suddenly died.
We recorded Jerry Merritt’s “Town Of Fools”, a song which describes a husband and father, too busy chasing the dollar to pay attention to his wife and kids. I was proud to have sung this song then, and I am still proud to sing it now in my solo shows. The B-side, “I’m Coming Home Los Angeles”, was co-written by the great standards writer, Bobby Worth. Bobby wrote the Ink Spots’ hit, “Do I Worry”. However, “I’m Coming Home Los Angeles”, done in the style of the Great American Songbook, was not suitable to be covered by a bunch of teen rockers. I consider it the one clunker in our amazing batch of recordings; however, I often hear from young people, who say they dig its campy sound. So, I’m learning to shut up and go with the flow!
Next, we created and recorded our great theme song “Velvet Illusions”, our psychedelicized bird in the face of the Monkees. The message? “Beware: the Velvet Illusions are coming!” Check out Steve Weed’s spacey Vox organ sounds. The flip side, featuring the vocals of your humble scribe, was “Born To Be A Rolling Stone”, a Jerry Merritt-penned country-rocker which had been previously covered by Gene Vincent, to which we added a touch of psych organ and an ever-so-slightly out of tune 12-string Mosrite. Can you say garage rock? – Or is that early country rock….
One record, “Town Of Fools”, received quite a bit of local airplay. I remember being in a local pinball emporium, hanging with friends, when suddenly, the song burst out of the place’s sound system, which was tuned in to a local radio station. Everything stopped while we listened to my singing! Wow, did I feel great! (Thanks, DJ Randy Pugsley, for playing my song that night!) — But of course, Yakima radio would not program “Acid Head”. They were happy to play the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, but not our anti-drug song. Mr. Radford announced to us, in fact, that the song was banned world-wide. But that’s fine, because today, “Acid Head” is collected all over the planet, is well-represented on compilation LP’s and CD’s, and is all over YouTube and internet radio. So we did fine with that song! At the time though, we were dealing with small-town radio and small-town minds. We began to wonder if perhaps success lay elsewhere….
In June, 1967, after playing countless gigs throughout Eastern Washington and Oregon, six of our seven core members relocated to Hollywood, with our manager, George Radford, Sr. We moved into a nice neighborhood, renting a spacious house at 1260 North Hobart, which featured a beautiful meditation garden behind the house. I was the cook. I was the only one could cook. Mr. Radford gave every boy one day to cook for the others. He had me go last. I said to him, “No, I don’t think I should go last”. But seven days later, when I sat a real meal on the table, six happy boys said, “Randy is the cook”. It was a good thing. I felt like it was my band, and I felt like I was taking care of the other six guys. I felt a responsibility, at seventeen years of age. (I thought it was my band then; I see now that without Steve Weed, our group would never have achieved the popularity it has. I realize that while I was a big part of our live show; Steve owned the studio. I have in recent times, referred to him as a young rock god. He was somethin’.)
We set up our huge Super Beatle amps, drums and Vox organ, and practiced all the time, until the L.A. cops came over so many times to say, “Turn it down, please”, that we practically became friends with them. After a while, we didn’t practice at home very often. When we really needed to practice at full volume, Mr. Radford rented a practice facility for us.
We had a suite of offices in Hollywood, on El Centro Avenue, where we regularly gathered, to package and mass-mail our 45’s and publicity material. We also packaged and mailed records recorded by other artists whom our management had taken on. We mailed out records featuring a young woman, Judy Curtis, and her band, The Gentlemen. Since there was no real Gentlemen, we became The Gentlemen! Judy’s 45 featured two songs written by Bobby Worth, who wrote “I’m Coming Home, Los Angeles”, which Mr. Radford forced me to sing and record. Thanks to musician and Velvet Illusions fan, Stevie Dee, I’m able to share a photo of this extremely rare record with you.
Three of us — George, Dewayne and myself — also worked full-time day jobs. So we kept very busy. George and Dewayne worked as ushers at a beautiful Hollywood theater. They’d come home after work, and act out scenes from the movie, “The Dirty Dozen”, which they were forced to view over, and over again, ad nauseam. We all found this to be very funny. I worked in a restaurant, and was able to enjoy some very good food, as part of my working there. (I describe working at the restaurant, below.)
We were not involved in management decisions (for example, my stage name was changed to Jimmie James, against my wishes). At least some of us were disappointed to learn that Sophie Tucker’s elderly manager, Jack Oliphant, had been hired as our publicity director. Buddy Matola, an associate of the great writing team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, was also hired as an advisor. Our management team was made up of much older people, whose biggest successes took place in earlier times. They didn’t have the youthful vision needed to carry a rock band forward in the late 1960’s. Had we been consulted, we boys probably would have had better ideas regarding how to move forward in the best manner. We were hard working, thoughtful, dedicated and intuitive.
Due to the incessant promotional work of Mr. Radford and ourselves, our songs did become nationally noticed. Cash Box Magazine, the juke box industry’s house organ, designated our 45, “Velvet Illusions”/”Born To Be A Rolling Stone” as a Best Bet. This meant that it should have wound up in every juke box in America. I don’t know why that didn’t happen. And while “Acid Head” was being banned by more and more radio stations, in some ways that helped, because we and the song gained more notoriety. We learned that “Acid Head” was popular in Japan. Our music is popular in Japan as I speak. I correspond regularly with some really cool cats in Japan. Some of them are incredible young guitarists! (In another odd coincidence, in 1971, I found myself in a band with two members of Tokyo’s Flower Travellin Band, aka The Flowers. Their records are also collected around the world. Please find a link to my writing on this subject, at the end of this article.)
We performed at LA International Airport as part of the welcoming entourage for the “Queen of English Music Hall”, Two-Ton Tessie O’Shea, the star who appears in an iconic photo with the Beatles. We, of course, had to have a similar photo taken with her! The famed New York newspaper columnist, Earl Wilson, wrote a story about this, saying Ms. O’Shea had a special connection to the Velvet Illusions, because young Steve Weed had written her to ask for ukulele instructions. Truth be told, this was only a story, made up by the old gent, Jack Oliphant, who just happened to be Tessie’s manager. Ukes were not popular in our set; not at all! This was a little before Tiny Tim released “Tiptoe Through The Tulips”, and way before Eddie Vedder released a CD of uke tunes.
Speaking of our songwriter/keyboardist/singer, Steve Weed, and our time in California: many websites and DJ’s continue to perpetuate the myth that he was either the boyfriend or husband of Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. – Not. That was a different Steve Weed. In fact, that fellow was known as Stephen. — Even the record company which released our 2015 LP tried to use that connection to sell more product; they took it a step further and referred to Patty Hearst as our “lefty manager”. That is simply ridiculous. I made them correct that in their publicity material.
Being kids from Yakima, we did had some fun living in Hollywood during the “Summer Of Love”, when we weren’t busy with our day jobs, or with mailing out 45’s at the office. We sometimes dressed up as “hippies” and walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard, waving at all the gawkers. We thought this was so funny! We also enjoyed visiting the Stash head shop. We were totally straight-arrow kids, who didn’t even drink, so this establishment really opened our eyes to what was happening. We saw our first black light posters. It was amazing how they glowed; their images seemed to jump right off the wall. It was a great day when the Stash added one of our 45’s to their juke box! Eventually we were barred from visiting the Stash by Mr. Radford. Our management’s goal was to keep us innocent and squeaky clean, so that we could be marketed as the alternative to dirty hippies. (I had to wait a year or so before I became one of those!)
As I briefly mentioned above, a group of neighborhood girls formed a Velvet Illusions fan club. When we did have a little free time, we had fun just hanging with them on the lawn, sharing talk and soft drinks. They were very sweet. On a totally voluntary basis, they formed our fan club. They also shared their extra food with us when they saw that we were a little undernourished….
I worked at Hody’s Hollywood and Vine Restaurant as a busboy, and later a “soda jerk”, 40 hours per week, and I got to know some of my co-workers a little. They came from all over the world. I made my first Iranian friend: “Toraj” managed to sneak me into the famed Haunted House nightclub, where this under-aged Yakima boy saw a band with a horn section throw down on a sensational version of “Hip Hugger”, while smoke poured out of the huge red-eyed bat’s nostrils, as it glared at us from the stage. — Very striking, to say the least. Before we were escorted out by the club’s owner, I had a great time soaking up the atmosphere of the Bat Cave. When I later noticed its presence in one of those teen-exploitation movies, I said, “I was there!”
I also had the pleasure of waiting on some Hollywood stars who frequented Hody’s, including Michael J. Pollard, an actor my dad idolized, who played C. W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde, and “Little Eddie Hodges”, whom I idolized due to his work in various Disney Movies.
Also, the famed actor, the little person, Billy Barty, paid a weekly visit to Hody’s, bringing with him enough beautiful starlets to fill our largest booth! They would have a big party every time they came in. He was very easy to help. A nice man who loved being a star, who enjoyed being around a lot of women, at once!
When I look back, it’s memories such as that, which I cherish the most. I was seeing the real Hollywood. But I wasn’t part of it. I was, as usual, an outside observer. But I had fun working around those stars; and it was a respite from having to think about the band’s problems.
Because, in the face of what looked like success, we boys wound up moving back to Yakima and splitting up. Rather than getting into a lot of details here, let’s just say that we were very young and far from home; and we eventually became discouraged and/or homesick. We worked very hard, but we had no say in decisions, we played almost no shows, and we saw little return for our efforts. We slowly started migrating back to Yakima, and out of the band. I left in the late summer of 1967. – The subject of our breakup has been covered elsewhere. It seems whenever we are written about, our troubles and eventual breakup are emphasized, rather than our successes. I realize that writers and fans want to know those kind of things; but we surviving members do not agree on what are the facts. I’m throwing out an olive branch here by filtering my comments. There’s too much good which I can speak of.
Before the ultimate breakup, Steve Weed, George Radford and some new guys, including Eastern Washington rhythm guitarist Bruce Kitt and drummer Jon Juette, not only appeared on the Mayor Yorty show; they also recorded four essential, iconic sides, sung by Steve Weed, at the famed Sunset Sound Recording. I was shocked to find out in February, 2015, that the guitarist on at least some of those records was none other than Roland Bautista, who went on to be a guitarist for Earth, Wind & Fire! Upon learning of his involvement, I attempted to contact Mr. Bautista, to ask him to share his Velvet Illusions story. However, I learned from his producer that he passed away in 2012. His producer confirmed that Roland had been in the band. I wish I could tell you which songs Roland played lead on. I wasn’t there, so I can’t. But I’m proud of those songs, even though I’m not on them. I’m glad I helped form the band that eventually recorded those final four songs.
Here is a little detail about the songs which the band recorded at Sunset Sound Recording:
“Hippy Town” addressed the LA hippie scene, as viewed by young, small-town outsiders. The song included a wailing, psych-jazz sax performance, done inventively by George Radford. Side B, “Mini Shimmy”, was written about a beautiful girl who danced in her miniskirt, all night long. The sound and subject of the song proves the fact that the band came of age playing scores of teen dances in the Pacific Northwest.
Also recorded during the Hollywood sessions was “Lazy”, the fastest song ever played about lying around doing nothing. It sounds like Iron Butterfly on speed. Check out the San Francisco-styled lead guitar. And finally, “Stereo Song” was a great song about the joys of listening to records. The song approaches the subject with a punk-rock attack.
These four songs surely helped establish our place in rock history. They’re garage/psych gems. I wish I could say I played on them; but as I mentioned, I’m very proud of them, nonetheless, as I helped start the group which recorded them. I promote them as if they were my own.
After the breakup, in the fall of 1967, Steve Weed, Dale Larrison, Danny Wagner, Danny Wohl (who had stayed behind when the rest of us relocated to Hollywood) and I reunited in Yakima as the Peppermint Tea. We provided the half-time entertainment for the famed Harlem Clowns basketball show in Yakima’s Eisenhower High School gymnasium. We played just what we wanted to play, and had fun. However, our new group didn’t record, and we didn’t last. We were unable to find suitable management in that small town. And, Mr. Radford formed a new band around sax man George, calling it the New Velvet Illusions. That group also didn’t last.
I went on to form my own psychedelic blues band, Felix, which played loud, hippie concerts all over the Yakima area. Later, I formed a band with the two members of the Flowers, Katsuhiko “Katz” Kobayashi and Remi “Lemi” Aso, playing hippie country music. I later led my own country rock groups, playing behind several legends of country music, including Rose Maddox and Japan’s Eddie Fukano. Relocating to Seattle, Washington, I joined Stampede Pass, a very popular country rock band. Willie Nelson and his bassist, Bee Spears, sat in with us for two hours, at a club located on the shores of the beautiful Lake Union. We also played a show with the great honky-tonk singer/guitarist, Hank Thompson, and his Brazos Valley Boys. We did many shows where we acted as the backup band for Rusty Draper, who previously had his own national TV show.
2015 finds me performing 3-hour marathon, solo folk-rock concerts at the age of 66. Usually, my audiences are young enough to be my grandchildren. I love playing for them. They just want to soak up music. If you ask me about the members of today’s generation, I’ll simply say, from my heart, that I love them. If I had my choice, and could do anything I want to, I would move to Tokyo, Japan and do a tribute to Bob Dylan five-nights-per-week. I would be tickled to do that, and it would get me out of my senior citizens apartment building! I am way underutilized; I have way more to offer, if I can just do it.
Sad to say, I haven’t seen any of my former band mates in over 40 years. I hear them every single day on our songs! But I don’t ever see them. However, I’m in touch with Steve Weed and Danny Wohl. I must inform you that drummer Danny Wagner and lead guitarist Dewayne Russell passed away years ago. I recently learned that our first bass player, Larry “Lurch” Linse, passed away in 2011. As I mentioned, Roland Bautista passed away in 2012. Dale Larrison, our second, and primary bassist, passed away in December, 2014. There is no way the original band can ever reunite; but as long as Steve Weed and I are around, and can play, there’s always a chance he and I could do a project. We of course, would not even call it by the old name….
Since our breakup, the Velvet Illusions’ career has definitely gained momentum. In 1987, twenty years after our split, I discovered that our records were being collected, sold and resold, and compiled onto, at first, LP’s and then CD’s. I remember a day in 1987, when I was talking on the phone with the great record collector/re-release man/rock music writer, Neal Skok, discussing a famous psychedelic blues group we both liked, Canned Heat. Neal chanced to ask if I had been in any bands of note. I mentioned the Velvet Illusions. After having me hold for about two minutes, Neal played one of our songs over the phone. I just about died! Well, when Neal told me how collectible our recordings were, when I found out that people cared that much about us, I began strategizing to make our music even more well-known. I was also concerned with protecting our legacy and history. I spent a lot of time contacting various websites, writers and publications, asking them to correct glaring errors in their Velvet Illusions bios. Among other things, I wanted it known that we came from the little desert town of Yakima, rather than LA.
In 1993, Vernon Joynson published his huge tome dedicated to our style of music, “Fuzz, Acid and Flowers: A Comprehensive Guide To American Garage and Hippie Rock (1964-1975)”. We Velvet Illusions were rightly featured in the book. The information printed about us was not quite accurate; but it still served to get us noticed. The book has been periodically updated; and I am assured that any future update will feature a correct, proper Velvet Illusions entry.
Over the years, I began hoping that we surviving members would work together and release a CD of our songs. Well, quite a few years went by. I finally discovered the existence of the Pacific Northwest Bands website, a reference source which lists thousands of classic Northwest bands. In 2006, I posted a long Velvet Illusions bio there, which is now quite out of date. But on more than one occasion, our entry has been one of the most visited on that site. And, industry people found it and took notice!
In 2009, we were contacted by Warner’s Rhino Records, who produce the great Nuggets series of records and CD’s which spotlight 60’s psych and garage band music. The upshot is, our “Acid Head” wound up on their Fall, 2009, 4-CD release, “Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968”. The set was nominated for a Grammy; but it lost to a Beatles re-release project. Also nominated for the Grammy were a Hank Williams re-release project and a Buddy Holly re-release project! So we were all in good company!
In early 2010, Londoner, Gray Newell contacted us with an offer to produce a CD containing ten songs, to be released on the well-respected label, Tune In. I’m so happy to say we released that CD, “Acid Head”, in 2011. It contains a 12-page booklet penned by Gray, which contains rare photos, facts and a complete discography of our music. It continues to be available via the internet. This is easily our crowning achievement.
Gray Newell later authored a six-page Velvet Illusions article for the great print fanzine, “Ugly Things”, which was published in 2012.
I was subsequently very pleased to learn that the awesome Pandora internet radio station added Velvet Illusions songs to its playlist, as did Psychedelicized Radio. I wrote a bio for our Psychedelicized Radio page; plus I recorded some “promos” for them, which air on a regular basis. I was listening to a live recording of a Pentangle show which Psychedelicized Radio presented in April of 2015; my promo ran immediately after that great show concluded.
I’m happy to say that “Acid Head” is no longer banned! The above fine internet stations program it. It and our other songs are also played by DJ’s on podcasts and traditional broadcast stations around the globe.
A visit to YouTube land will reward you with page after page of Velvet Illusions videos: young, talented people have taken our songs and coupled them with their inventive videos. You could spend hours viewing these. Some feature other bands covering our tunes, some are made by skateboarders. There are several Ferbguy “Ed Edd n Eddy” animated videos featuring our songs. – And then, other folks, including YouTube itself, have generated scads of videos featuring our songs, without using any true video to accompany our music. I don’t have much respect for those videos or their makers. They show no creativity whatsoever. They just use our songs, for free.
In June, 2013, New York Magazine/Vulture.com’s pop critic, Jody Rosen, posted a Spotify song list entitled “100 Years, 100 Songs”. The list includes great songs recorded by everyone from Bing Crosby to Barbara Streisand, to Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. Our “Hippy Town” was 1967’s iconic song!
In September, 2013, the internet music site, “Cosmic Mind At Play”, whose motto is “Exploring wigged out garage and psychedelic sounds from the swinging 60’s to the present day”, named our theme song, “Velvet Illusions”, and its flip side, “Born To Be A Rolling Stone”, #64 on its Classic Singles list!
New York Magazine surveyed its critics, asking them to list “60 Great Albums You Probably Haven’t Heard”. The article was posted on Vulture.com in November, 2013. Our “Acid Head” CD made the list for the 1960’s!
In March, 2014, I created the Facebook Page, “Velvet Illusions Fans”, an unofficial Page for fans. I combed the internet for the best photos, YouTube videos, articles, and other Velvet Illusions goodies, and put them all onto one Page. Whether you are a fan, a record company staffer or a writer, the Page is the go-to source for all things Velvet Illusions. Lately, I’ve been posting photos of happy young fans from all over the globe, holding their Velvet Illusions recordings. I’m always working to make the Page more interactive. — When I really get old, my brilliant young Hungarian friend, Peter Garami, will take over the admin duties of the Facebook Page. Peter already has a Facebook Page dedicated to another band he really likes, called Them. Van Morrison came from that band.
I find myself being Facebook Friends with hip, young people from around the world. Fans in Japan, Iran, Greece, Scotland, Italy, Spain and more, have “friended” me; we chat about music which was made decades before they were born.
I let go of my personal archives recently, selling the two Velvet Illusions 45’s I had for 49 years. I was sure to give my two young friends an extra-good deal. I wanted those 45’s to go to someone who would appreciate them. I found the perfect people!
In May, 2014, the rock writer, Kevin Rathert conducted an interview with Steve Weed and me, resulting in a 32-page, very frank interview published in the on-line zine, “It’s Psychedelic, Baby”. I wrote two articles for the same publication, “When Yakima, Washington’s Velvet Illusions and Tokyo, Japan’s Flowers Came Together”, which was published in August, 2014. Then, I wrote “Randy Bowles of the Velvet Illusions Interviews Randy Bowles of the Velvet Illusions”, which appeared in It’s Psychedelic Baby in September, 2014. — The magazine also appears in a print edition, and I am hoping at least one of the three pieces will appear in a future issue.
In July, 2014, the producers of the famed “Acid Dreams” compilation, in which “Acid Head” and “Velvet Illusions” first appeared in 1979 (unbeknownst to most or all of us ex-members), recently released a 3-LP limited-edition, hand-numbered set, which again features those songs. Sadly, most if not all of us, again receive no compensation for our work. It’s hard to feel honored when our songs are appropriated, but at least our music is included in an extremely notable release.
The Swiss record company, Moi J’Connais, recently secured the rights to produce and release a limited-edition (1,000 copies) Velvet Illusions LP. The LP, simply entitled “Velvet Illusions”, was released in February, 2015. It sports a DIY-look cover. It contains Gray Newell’s text from our CD; it contains the ten songs which are on our CD. Recently, the record company told me they had sold out the entire run.
Recently, a young fan created a Velvet Illusions entry for Wikipedia; he also created an entry which spotlights our “Acid Head” recording. To think that a young person would be interested in the band to the extent that they would create Wikipedia entries about us was truly heartening.
Another young fan, an Austrian teen, also paid tribute to us, by colorizing and/or color-correcting the bulk of our iconic photos. I was able to utilize these photos in a much-viewed blog post entitled “The Velvet Illusions In Living Color” (see link below).
And then, there’s this! Cherry Red, a truly great record company, has released a 3-CD set entitled “Looking Stateside.” The Velvet Illusions’ “Lazy” is on it. The set takes a wide-ranging look at American music from the day. It includes a number of soul groups, and of course, garage and psyche groups similar to us. It’s great that two other seminal Pacific Northwest groups, The Sonics and The Wailers, are also represented. The first rock show I attended was presented by The Wailers. And, I worked at Seattle’s Experience Music Project with Sonics bass player/vocalist, Freddie Dennis, in the 2000’s.
On June 19, 2016, our hometown paper, the Yakima Herald-Republic, honored us with a full-length story, both on-line and in the Sunday paper. They paid tribute to us on the occasion of our 50th anniversary. Click to read Tammy Ayer’s great story: http://www.yakimaherald.com/news/local/yakima-band-the-velvet-illusions-marks-years-since-founding/article_ba1809aa-34e4-11e6-82ce-536cbd150bf5.html
In August, 2017, the great Green Monkey Records named our album their album of the month. Considering it was released in 2011 and contains songs from 1966 and 1967, it’s a great honor. To know that our songs have that kind of staying power feels very good.
So, as we celebrate our 51st anniversary, the Velvet Illusions’ story goes forward! While we “survivors” are getting fewer, and longer in the tooth, our music will stay young forever, and it will be collected, programmed, written about, and loved, far into the future. To all loyal Velvet Illusionites: thank you, one and all from “Jimmie James”.
(You may need to copy/paste some of these links.)
For much more information, videos, photos, etc., visit the Facebook Page, “Velvet Illusions Fans”: https://www.facebook.com/fansofthevelvetillusions
For even further information, here are links to various articles and interviews:
“Randy Bowles of the Velvet Illusions Interviews Randy Bowles of the Velvet Illusions”: https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/the-velvet-illusions-randy-bowles-interviews-the-velvet-illusions-randy-bowles/
“When Yakima, Washington’s Velvet Illusions and Tokyo, Japan’s Flowers Came Together”, written by Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles: https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/when-one-of-yakima-washingtons-velvet-illusions-and-two-of-tokyo-japans-flowers-came-together/
“It’s Psychedelic Baby 2014 ‘zine interview” (interview by Kevin Rathert): http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-velvet-illusions-interview.html
“Psychedelicized Radio Bio”, written by Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles: http://psychedelicized.com/playlist/v/the-velvet-illusions/
“My Journey From Garage To Grunge”, by Randy Bowles: https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/my-journey-from-garage-to-grunge/
“The Velvet Illusions In Living Color, by Randy Bowles: “https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2016/05/27/the-velvet-illusions-in-living-color/
Here is your author, singing his original song, Elder Hippie, in May of 2014, at his favorite venue, Black Coffee Coop, in Seattle, Washington:
Thank you, Domenic Priore and Timothy Gassen, for helping me nail down the name of the Hollywood nightclub I visited. I had thought it was called the Bat Cave.
— Randy Bowles, May, 2015, with subsequent updates, through May 15, 2017.