To my knowledge, the last time the Yakima (Washington) Herald-Republic spotlighted the band I helped start, the Velvet Illusions, was in 1967, when it reported on our move to Hollywood, California. Tammy Ayer has written a great story about the band. For our fans who otherwise might not see the story, I’m providing a link here. Thank you, dear readers, for your interest in the band. My Velvet Illusions-related stories have had over 1,300 views. Please click to read the story, and to hear two of our songs:
I helped start the “semi-legendary” psych/garage band, the Velvet Illusions, in 1966, in Yakima, WA. I sang lead on three of our ten released singles, and played second lead guitar. Since finding out in 1987, from my friend, mega-record collector Neal Skok, that our music and memorabilia are collected all over the planet, I’ve made it my mission to keep the band in the public eye. Here is my latest shameless attempt!
Although some of our photos were originally released in color, our band existed in an era where much of the photography was done in black and white. Recently, a young friend, Austria’s Aldrik Auth, took it upon himself to colorize several of our black and white photos. (One of the coolest things about my involvement with the band has been meeting amazing young people from all over the world.) I thought it would be fun to present “The Velvet Illusions In Living Color”, in one spot. Feel free to copy and share, but please credit Aldrik Auth for photo restoration. Here we go, in approximate chronological order. [2020 update: In April, 2020 Aldrik reprocessed many of these photos, restoring them to a whole new level. They look like they were taken “yesterday”.]
We began our career as The Illusions, in 1966. Here we are, playing a teen dance in Yakima. L-R: Danny Wagner (RIP), Chuck Funk, Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles, Larry “Lurch” Linse (RIP), George Radford. This photo was originally released in color.
Here is another photo of that very first lineup. By then, we were calling ourselves the Velvet Illusions. This was taken in 1966, as we were heading out to play an event held in honor of then-Washington State Governor Albert Rosellini. We had to play “ballroom dance” music instead of rock music. We boys watched from the stage as old people in suits and gowns stared back at us. I must say, we preferred playing rock music, for our own age group. — While this was originally a color photo, Aldrik Auth “improved” it for us.
This is the iconic Velvet Illusions photo, which has gone around and around the planet. Our friend Aldrik Auth colorized it for us. L-R: Dewayne Russell (RIP), Danny Wohl, Danny Wagner, Steve Weed, Dale Larrison (RIP), Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles, George Radford.
Londoner, Grey Newell, who made the release of our 2011 CD happen, psychedelicized the same photo for us, which I used on my Facebook Page, Velvet Illusions Fans.
Here is our core recording lineup: the group that did the bulk of the recording. Our management is also in the photo. Back row, L-R: Steve Weed, Dewayne Russel, George Radford, Sr., Manager, Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles, George Radford, Gene Weed, Assistant Manager. Front row, L-R: Danny Wagner, Dale Larrison, Danny Wohl. This photo has been color-corrected by Aldrik Auth.
What a happy lot we were…. This photo of the classic lineup was taken, to the best of my recollection, in the Radfords’ yard. It came out in color.
Here we are in early summer 1967, playing on Steve Montgomery’s “Summer Wild Thing” show on Yakima, Washington’s KIMA TV. We shared the bill with the New Yorkers, aka The Hudson Brothers. Same classic lineup. This photo was originally released in color.
Here is a still shot taken the day we were on “Summer Wild Thing”, when we were interviewed for KIMA’s local news hour. We were shown on the news, discussing how disappointed we were that our “Acid Head” was banned by U.S. radio, even though it was anti-drug. Color-corrected by Aldrik Auth.
In the summer of 1967, we welcomed England’s hit recording artist, “Two-Ton Tessie O’Shea” to L.A. International Airport, now known as LAX. Surrounding her (with our new rhythm guitarist), we are L-R: Steve Weed, Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles, Dewayne Russell, Dale Larrison, Bruce Kitt, George Radford, Danny Wagner. Colorized for us by Aldrik Auth.
Thanks to Aldrik, here is how we wished we had of looked! This is just for fun.
Aldrik colorized this sweet photo of Tessie planting one on Steve Weed. Our management made up the story that Steve wrote to Tessie asking for ukelele lessons, which was how we eventually met her. That was pure PR — also spelled BS. Steve was a great Vox Continental organ player who did not need ukelele lessons!
The poor Beatles! You’ll note that they only have the black and white photo with Tessie! Tessie told us that they were very sweet young men.
Mid-late summer 1967 saw several lineup changes. Here is a photo of the remaining guys, with some new recruits meeting Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty. Your left to right: Mr. Radford, George Radford, Mayor Yorty, Jon Juette, Bruce Kitt, Roland Bautista, Steve Weed. Roland Bautista (RIP) later was a member of Earth, Wind & Fire. Colorized by Aldrik.
Although the photo is in black and white, I thought I should include this, due to the great use of color by the record company. It’s the front cover art for our 2015 LP, released on Moi J’Cannois Records. I’m not sure who to credit for the art; but people like it.
And, here is the back cover art for our LP.
Finally, from saxman George Radford, is a photo he took circa 2014 of one of our velvet uniforms, from which we took our name. They’ve been stored away, apparently in pristine condition, since 1967.
Well, there you have it: the oh, so colorful Velvet Illusions. Feel free to use these photos as you wish. And share this post for us? Thanks for being our loyal fans. We who remain, love you all.
Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles, Seattle, WA, May 2016/Updated April 2020
Here is a link to my Velvet Illusions Fans Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/fansofthevelvetillusions/
My thanks to Peter Garami for putting me in touch with Aldrik Auth. Peter is another one of those great young people I’ve met through the band. And a special thanks to great YouTube video maker, Ally Smith, for creating the video that opens this story, using our song, and his film footage.
Graphic artist, Henry Chamberlain, a friend and fellow WordPress blogger who is going to illustrate some my tales, interviewed me recently. He turned our interview into a WordPress story. It’s very nicely done. Henry writes a bit about the 60’s band I helped form, the Velvet Illusions, he features one of our songs, and then he has me talk about 60’s culture and fashion. I’d love to share it with you. To see his post, just click the link: http://comicsgrinder.com/2015/11/14/pop-culture-focus-randy-bowles-and-the-sixties/
[Updated April 2020: BTW, I still play concerts. I usually play 4-5 monthly opening galas for Seattle Center’s excellent A/NT Gallery. Contact me for deets.]
[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 share our history; and to do it in as positive a manner as possible.]
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 have 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 I 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 Marta, 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! (More about that, coming up.)
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. The above photo was taken as we headed out to play that event. The photo surfaced in 12/2018.
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” (the now-grownup version) whom I idolized due to his work in various Disney movies, and because of his recording of “Girls Are Made To Love”. I was girl-crazy, and as a young teen, I really, really dug that song, and sang along to it every time it popped up on Yakima radio.
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 (and 2018) 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, of the ones I played with.
I’m also in touch with drummer Jon Juette, with whom I never had the pleasure of playing. 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. It’s not ours to use, anyway….
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. (As of 2018, the station still airs my promo. Lots of fun.)
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. Please see below for a link to Tammy Ayer’s great story. That was followed up in October, 2017, by Pat Muir’s Herald story about our highly-collectible 45’s, “Music notes: It’s tough — and pricey– to find 45s from the Velvet Illusions”. See below for a link to that piece.
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.
In June, 2018, L’est Republicain Newspaper’s Said Labidi published his story about Frenchman Pascal de Vandoeuvre’s project to make and record awesome, new, original versions of Velvet Illusions songs. It also chronicles the friendship of Pascal, his daughter Mailys, and myself. Please find a link to the story, below. Plus, I’ve provided a link to Pascal’s fabulous new version of “Acid Head’, which includes a vocal contribution by Mailys. Pascal calls his group The Vandoperians. There is also a new audio collaboration which features The Vandoperians and a past member of the Velvet Illusions: Jon Juette plays drums on the cut, a new version of “Town Of Fools”, which I sang in 1966. Please see the YT link for that, also below. I make a guest (visual) appearance in the video.
More YouTube video news: The great Scottish music video creator, Ally Smith, has made two new videos featuring our music, combined with his footage. Ally videos feature “Town Of Fools”, with me on vocals, and “Stereo Song”, with Steve Weed on vocals. You can find those on YouTube by doing a simple search.
2020 update: Some of the band photos in this story are “brand new” (as in April 2020), restored photos, done by our friend, Austria’s Aldrik Auth. Aldrik is just one more of our great, talented friends who contribute to the cause.
So, as we celebrate our 54th 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, covered, programmed, written about, and loved, far into the future. To all loyal Velvet Illusionites: thank you, one and all from “Jimmie James”. I’m 71 as of this writing; I’m in great shape; I plan to keep chronicling the band’s history, as long as I can. And I assure you: there is more to come!
(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:
Tammy Ayer’s Yakima Herald story in honor of our 50th anniversary: http://www.yakimaherald.com/news/local/yakima-band-the-velvet-illusions-marks-years-since-founding/article_ba1809aa-34e4-11e6-82ce-536cbd150bf5.html
Pat Muir’s Yakima Herald story regarding collecting our records: http://www.yakimaherald.com/scene/music/music-notes-it-s-tough—-and-pricey/article_12458efa-b9bd-11e7-baee-6b2df7238e9b.html
Here is a link to Said Labidi’s L’est Republicain Newspaper, June 2018 article: https://www.estrepublicain.fr/edition-de-nancy-ville/2018/06/19/le-leader-des-velvet-illusions-propose-un-duo-a-son-fan-vandoperien
Here is a link to The Vandoperian’s great video of their original cover of “Acid Head”:
Here is a link to The Vandoperian’s newest VI’s cover, “Town Of Fools”, featuring Velvet Illusions drummer Jon Juette. This was created in France, and WA state, thanks to modern recording technology:
Thank you, Domenic Priore and Timothy Gassen (R.I.P. Tim), for helping me nail down the name of the Hollywood nightclub I visited. I had thought it was called the Bat Cave.
Please visit and “like” the Facebook page I created to spotlight my ongoing acoustic music career: https://www.facebook.com/RandyBowlesMusic/?eid=ARAlPegIkpeoqMhQnrAyiIx0mXKPM0Jb_06j3uyXCypQ5ERFZXInoaCUe0YLKxswRc-_f-t2koJv-OJ0
And finally, in 2019, I wrote and recorded this song in tribute to Willie Nelson, whom I played with in 1977. Please check it out. It’s a low-fi home recording. I’m sharing the link to you can get an idea of how I sound these days:
— Randy Bowles, May, 2015, with ongoing updates, through December 26, 2018.
Please note: at times it may seem I’m off on tangents. However, I am simply noting the many coincidences which take place throughout this story. Bear with me?
As odd as it may sound, I was a Velvet Illusion, and practically a Flower! Allow me to introduce myself: I’m Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles, from the 1960’s band, The Velvet Illusions. I was raised in the small town of Yakima, Washington, which lies in the fertile agricultural region of Eastern WA. — Fertile because an intricate irrigation system turned the desert into an abundant garden. World-famous apples, peaches, “cots”, cherries, grapes, hops and many other crops have grown in abundance, for decades. When I was coming up in the 1950’s-1970’s, beef cattle were also being raised. In fact, I worked cattle as a teenager. Let me say: we did some awful things to those young bulls! — Lumber mills also provided a good source of employment for a number of Yakimans, who helped process the region’s timber into all manner of useful materials. A lot of citizens made their living with their hands, their strength, and the sweat of their labor.
Music was big in Yakima. It was a diversion from the hard work, but also the boredom, that went hand-in-hand in small towns. Teen bands sprang up all over town and throughout the Yakima Valley. I helped start one of Yakima’s most famous bands, The Velvet Illusions, in 1966. Contrary to what was commonly repeated years later, when we became a much-collected band, we did not originate in Los Angeles, CA. We moved there for some months, hoping to find fame. But we were from little old Yakima. (For the definitive story, please see my blog story from April 30, 2015, “Inside the Velvet Illusions, By Randy ‘Jimmie James’ Bowles”.)
I’m still not sure how we seven small-town boys managed to crank out nine incredible psychedelic/garage songs, which we compiled on our 2011 release, “The Velvet Illusions – Acid Head”, including “Stereo Song”, and “Hippy Town”, which are collected and covered world-wide. I say nine songs, even though we recorded ten, because the tenth, “I’m Coming Home Los Angeles”, was a complete disaster as far as we were concerned. We hated it. We didn’t write it. We were not happy to perform and record this example of the Great American Songbook. A wonderful thing, the GASB, but not so for too many teenage boys in 1966.
Looking back, it seems so unlikely that a legendary band, of such rad style, could have sprung from the hick town that it was, then. However, something just as unlikely happened to me in 1971, at a time when Yakima’s population hovered around 45,000 souls. It was then that I became a member of a group I light-heartedly refer to as “The American Flowers”!
Have you heard the great Japanese psychedelic band, The Flowers, aka Yuya Uchida & The Flowers, Flower Travellin’ Band, or simply FTB? From 1971-72, I found myself playing in a band with two of their super-talented members. In circa 1970, they were coaxed by an American soldier/musician who was enjoying “R&R” (rest and recreation) in Tokyo, while taking a break from serving in Viet Nam, into relocating to tiny, little Yakima! This was amid much talk of guaranteed rock stardom. Instead, these two greats eventually found themselves stuck there: the world-class, beautiful, female singer Lemi “Remi” Aso, and the modest, soft-spoken, steel guitar wizard, Katsuhiko “Katz” Kobayashi. Following his discharge from the US Army, the soldier, Yakima’s Bill Tomisser, formerly of the very popular local band Danny and the Seniors, joined with Katz, Lemi and some superb Yakima musicians (and there were some) to form East Of West, possibly the best band ever started in Yakima, up to that point. They did fantastic versions of songs such as “Green Eyed Lady”, “Black Magic Woman” and “Evil Ways”. They were unbelievably good. But they were in Yakima! Not exactly a town where rock n’ roll fortunes were made. I speak from first-hand knowledge! Eventually, East Of West “went south” (ceased to exist). Lemi and Katz found themselves thousands of miles from their Tokyo home, with no more band, and no employment. They were truly in a bind.
Because they were so amazingly talented, it wasn’t surprising that even Yakima’s country music community was aware of their presence. I attended and sat-in at jam sessions a few miles outside of Yakima, where Katz’s playing would astound all present, whether their particular thing was country or rock. Note: Katz was given the nickname, “Dale”, the name he was called when we were introduced.
Just in the nick of time, Katz and Lemi were approached by a local, middle-aged country crooner/guitarist, who was looking to spice up his band with some extra talent. He led the house band at the Mayfair Tavern on Yakima Avenue. I mentioned previously that Yakima had at least one big lumber mill. Mill workers needed a place to have a beer, to dance, and to relax. The Mayfair was the perfect spot to enjoy a “red beer” (beer and tomato juice), a game of shuffleboard, and country and old rock and roll music, three or four nights per week, without “breaking the bank” to do so.
The veteran bandleader taught Katz a slew of country standards, old and new. Katz could soon play them all with authority, from “Bud’s Bounce” to “Steel Guitar Rag”, ”Wabash Cannonball”, “Together Again”. Katz also mastered such tunes such as “In The Mood”, “Alley Cat”, “Aloha Oe”, plus many early rock songs. Lemi sang a few country numbers, including the Hank Williams classic, “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. On several occasions, I visited the Mayfair and marveled at what I was hearing and seeing. East meets Western! — Surreal, man.
Well, I’m not sure why it happened, but the day came when the bandleader left his own band. Suddenly, Katz became the leader. He was faced with having to find a singer/guitarist in order to keep the job at the Mayfair. Having met and befriended Katz at those jam sessions, when I heard he was scratching around to find a “picker”, my ears really perked up. I had been fronting (guitar/vocal/writer) the best band I was ever honored to be a part of, “Felix”, which was one of the few blues bands in Yakima. (If you had a blues band in Yakima, it was a blues band! And we were a psychedelic blues band.) We were suffering the same fate as had Smiling Hand and so many good area bands. We were operating in a vacuum, where eventually, there were no places left to play. Every venture was on a downhill trajectory. So I eagerly showed up at the Mayfair for their Sunday night jam, ready to represent! Friends, I knew one country song: “Folsom Prison Blues”. But did I give that sucker my all. And I got the job! But first, I had to let Lemi give my long, hippie hair a razor cut. Yep, Ted, the tavern’s owner, said I couldn’t get on his bandstand until I cut my hair. I found out the same thing had happened to Katz. I had wondered why he hadn’t been sporting his customary long black locks.
We called the reconstituted band the Mayfair Wagon, after the tavern which we called home. We practiced diligently in the afternoons, day in and day out, as Katz, from Tokyo, taught me the essential songs which any American country singer worth his/her salt would need to know. For weeks, I was scotch-taping the lyrics to such songs as “Green, Green Grass Of Home”, “Silver Wings” and “Okie From Muskogee” to my mike stand in order to perform them.
We may have been doing some of the right songs, but we weren’t very “country”, very often. While I was learning the country repertoire, we had to fill in the set list with blues, boogie and old jump tunes. We also covered Santana and Creedence, and we did some slow blues. That was fine though, because Yakima audiences were known to enjoy a little of everything. I was playing a white Hagstrom “long and slippery” guitar a la Frank Zappa, and/or a very-early-vintage Mosrite, through a Fender Bassman amp, while Katz played pedal steel, hooked up to a late 60’s-early 70’s Honeybee fuzz tone. We had a rock drummer named Tim McKelheer, who, while diminutive in size, could pound the skins like nobody’s business. And once every set, Lemi would take to the stage and sing spot-on covers of Janis Joplin, such as “Turtle Blues” and “Summertime”. Or, she’d do a classic country number, and very well. I remember helping her learn the Joplin version of “Bobby McGee”. Lemi couldn’t decipher the lyrics, so I listened to the record and wrote them out phonetically for her. After much practice, we nailed it.
The oddest part of our music was undoubtedly the solos. Imagine having to hear my feedback guitar in the middle of Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles”, or Katz’ screaming, from-outer-space, fuzzed-out solo in “Kansas City”. Luckily, the dancers and drinkers didn’t object very often, because we kept a hellova beat, and we were after all, playing some of their favorite songs. Just not the way they were used to hearing them! I remember an area bassist, Bob Holt — a “real” country musician — sitting in with us. Bob would look me in the eye and say, in as nice a way as he could, but seriously, “Randy, that ain’t country.” – But our “precursor” to alt-country (psych-country?) was just too damn good not to win-over a large following. The club owner couldn’t say anything, because he was probably raking in more money than he’d previously seen. I mean, everyone came to see us in that little mill workers “tav”. Sunday jams would be packed with keyboard players, jazz guitarists sporting huge Gibsons with f-holes, horn players – we had ‘em all dropping in.
I couldn’t believe my luck: I was in a band with two of the most awesome, talented, out-of-this world musicians. We had so much fun playing and hanging out together. The beautiful Lemi and Katz, pictured above on their “Challenge!” LP cover, had fabulous personalities. They had to refrain from weed, due to their being visitors from Japan. But we had plenty of fun. Plenty!
Sometimes customers who’d had just a few too many red beers would approach Katz and give him a little guff, or request a song he hated, so he’d pretend to speak no English. Other times, Katz would use his supposed lack of English skills to play with people’s minds. I remember when an old dude came up to the stage and said to him, “Dale, you are some of the best”. To which he replied, “I am a son-of-a-bitch?” “No, no! Some of the best!” We all laughed, even the old man.
There exists a recording (sans Lemi) that features Katz on fuzz steel, our stalwart drummer Tim, and myself on guitar and vocals doing two songs, “Blues Medley” and “Kansas City”. The recording, made on an early-70’s cassette-corder, features our actual Mayfair Tavern performances, done for astounded, blue-collar lumber mill workers, sitting side-by-side with various “just visiting” rock musicians. The quality of the sound is not exactly commercial. But, I am giving the songs to you, as my gift. (To hear these songs for free in the sound cloud, just leave me your contact info in a Comment.)
Katz couldn’t stay in Yakima forever. He was way too unique and talented. He slowly made inroads with the Seattle, WA music community. After a long run at the Mayfair, he eventually made the move across the Cascade Mountains to the dramatically bigger, more progressive city, where he worked as a studio musician at Kaye-Smith Studios, partially owned by the inimitable actor/singer/dancer Danny Kaye. He then landed a job in R. C. Bannon’s band. R. C. was married to Louise Mandrel of the Mandrel Sisters, and he wrote hit country songs. — When Katz told me he was leaving, he handed-down to me his very own fuzz tone. We were at the Mayfair in the afternoon. He said, “Try it out.” The place was near-empty. I immediately hooked it up to my Hagstrom, and played. Beer glasses began dancing all over the rustic bar. I was never without that box, until the night it died on me.
With Katz’ move to Seattle, I became bandleader. I changed the name of our little group to Buckwheat. Local legend (I grew up worshiping his music) Chuck Gregory joined on bass, replacing Katz. (In 1966-67, my Velvet Illusions used to “battle” his band, The Fluorescents, at battles-of-the-bands produced by our manager.) Lemi and Tim, our drummer, remained, and we had a nice run at the Mayfair. There is another Mayfair tavern live recording featuring one of Lemi’s performances, where she really belts out “Turtle Blues”. I am so regretful that it’s the only recording I have which features her outstanding vocals. And her vocal is somewhat buried underneath the wall of sound our country “power trio” was producing behind/on top of her. Please find it embedded righ here, for you to enjoy, in the form of a YouTube video. My thanks to Gray Newell for digitizing the song, and to Peter Garami, my surrogate nephew, for producing the YouTube video.
Later, Tim McKelheer went on the road, and I replaced him with drummer Stan Ruehlow, another Fluorescents alum. So now, we had a Flower, a Velvet Illusion and two Fluorescents. (“The Fluorescent Velvet Flowers”?) We sounded even less country without Katz’ steel guitar in the mix. I was having to play all of the solos, and had been playing country for less than a year. How to describe our sound? Big Brother meets Merle Haggard, meets Canned Heat, meets Kitty Wells?
Sad to say, Lemi became reluctant to attend practice and learn new songs, because she was busy fronting another, true power trio (more later). Ted, our club owner, finally complained to me about her lack of new material. So I spoke with Lemi. She started crying… and resigned! I wasn’t happy about that because I was in love with her. But she had given her heart to another Yakima guitar slinger, Pat Moss. Pat was (and always shall be) a monster player. – Oddly enough, I wound up marrying one of his ex-girlfriends, Sally Jo Davis, years later. Crazy. Not only that, but Pat, whom I rank near Eric Clapton, spent a month playing with us in Buckwheat, in order to learn the country sound, I suppose. He was practically born holding a guitar. It took him only that one month to nail the country guitar sound. And he did this on a huge Gibson jazz box he acquired from local jazz great Glen Grover, in exchange for his Fender Stat. I heard first-hand how great Pat sounded playing country on a jazz box — very; but I never got to hear Glen do any of his Gabor Szabo covers on the Strat! — Yakima was full of amazing, wacky guitar players.
The “heavy” power trio that Lemi fronted simultaneously to playing in my band, was called Water Closet, and consisted of Pat Moss on guitar, the great drummer, Bill Durham, who also was an honorary member of Buckwheat, having filled in with us on a couple of occasions, and bass prodigy, Evan Sheeley. — Next coincidence please! Evan is the nephew of the owner of Lee’s Music Shop, the establishment where The Velvet Illusions procured all the Vox and Mosrite equipment we were famous for! Equipment we thought we owned. When the VI’s broke up and returned to Yakima in 1967, Evan’s uncle repossessed it, and barred us from his store.
Lemi and Water Closet were extremely good, and they had huge equipment. Sixteen-year-old bassist Evan used Sunn amps. (Yakima musicians were known for their great equipment! When I was fourteen, in 1963, it seemed that every friend I knew had a big brother who owned an SG, Strat, Tele, Rickenbacker, Precision, Ampeg amp, you name it. And Carolyn Daniels, lead singer of Carol and the Jaguars, had her own gold-top Gibson Les Paul in 1963!)
A tres’ cool, long-haired Tokyo gentleman had managed Lemi and Katz. He occasionally flew in for a visit, and I was able to get acquainted with him. It was Yuya Uchida! I was in awe of his big city hippie persona. Upon hearing Lemi and Water Closet perform, he offered them a Japanese tour. Sadly, it couldn’t happen, because Evan Sheeley, bassist extraordinaire, was so young, and couldn’t get parental permission! (Don’t feel too bad for Evan. He was later bassist for one of the Northwestern United States’ biggest metal bands, TKO; he is the bassist for the currently-touring Q5, and he owns the excellent store, Bass Northwest, which outfits some of the world’s greatest players.)
As for me, I had managed to carve a niche in the Eastern Washington country music scene, and I moved Buckwheat out of the Mayfair. I eventually signed-on to a great “sit-down” job at a happening country nightclub in Goldendale, WA, where my band, now known as The Western Electric Band, served as back-up band for up-and-coming stars and aging veterans, including the great Rose Maddox, for whom I cast my vote as one of the originators of rockabilly — or something an awful lot like it.
With Lemi and yours truly both leaving the Mayfair, we lost track of each other. I know Water Closet called it quits. Eventually, Lemi went home. I regret there are no recordings of Water Closet. — They would be “heavy”, man. I feel sorry for any Yakima rock fan is too young to have heard Water Closet, with Lemi’s wailing vocals out front. Or too young to have heard Smiling Hand, with Katz’ screaming steel. Sometimes, it’s worth it to be old. The Flowers truly had an impact on Yakima’s music scene.
Regarding Katz, because cream does indeed rise to the top, he eventually became steel guitarist for the great Marty Robbins, and held the job for years, until Marty passed. He was in the band when they received the Music City News award for Band of The Year. You can view Marty Robbins’ videos on YouTube, which feature my man on steel. Katz, sadly, passed away in the state of Florida in 2004. I was so sad when I heard the news.
Have I known “all along” that the Flowers have continued to be popular throughout the decades? No! I just found out recently, through sheer coincidence. I’m a 66-year-old solo folksinger these days. I have at least twenty recent performance videos on YouTube. I often scroll through my YT video lists to see how my “numbers” are looking. Of course, when I pull up my list, Velvet Illusions tracks pop up, and so do the names/images of similar psych groups. For months, I kept seeing an album cover entitled “Challenge” pop up, which featured a cute, naked woman right in front, along with a bunch of unclad guys. I finally clicked on the photo, and was I flabbergasted: it was Lemi, along with Katz and the rest of The Flowers! What a trip!
The Velvet Illusions’ sanctioned 2011 CD release, “Acid Head”, is available on the internet.
The 2008 Rhino Records set, “Where The Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets”, featuring The Velvet Illusions’ “Acid Head” single is available on the internet.
Here is a link to The Flowers’ version of “How Many More Times”, featuring Katsuhiko Kobayashi and Lemi “Remi” Aso: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBCWNDumMZU
Here is a link to the Velvet Illusions’ “Town Of Fools”, vocals/guitar by the author, written by Yakima’s Jerry Merritt, formerly of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGcsxYtpKkM
Here is a link to a blog story re: my psychedelic blues band, Felix: https://randybowlestories.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/singing-the-psychedelic-blues-small-town-style/
Here is the author in 2012, performing “Town Of Fools” in Seattle, WA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkO9uOJwYcY
Photo Credit: Yuya Uchida, circa 2006, Bob Gruen, Rock n’ Roll Photographer
Thank you: Klemen Breznikar, Gray Newell, Evan Sheeley, Bill White, Peter Garami and Bill Durham.
Hello, psych music fans! We managed to track down Randy Bowles, co-founder of Yakima, Washington’s Velvet Illusions, to ask him a series of probing questions. We found him ensconced in the senior citizens apartment building he calls home, in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, WA:
Randy, aka ‘Jimmie James’ Bowles, why do you want to interview yourself regarding your 60’s psych/garage band, The Velvet Illusions?
“Because there are questions I’ve always wanted someone to ask me. I’m gonna ask them myself.”
By the way, do you like being called ‘aka Jimmie James’?
“No. I loathe it. It sounds like I have a criminal alias.”
Too bad. You’re stuck with it, son! Let’s get started: Randy, is it true that, when you and the rest of the boys in the band picked a name, you were influenced by the Velvet Underground? You were just copying them?
“No! We lived in Yakima, Washington. We had never heard of them. We were sheltered, highly-innocent, teenaged boys from a back-water town, who’d never heard of that band, let alone anything they sang about! ‘I’m waiting for my man’, indeed! — The first time I ever heard of the Velvet Underground was in the winter of 1967, after I left the Velvet Illusions. I was in my neighborhood Sprouse Reitz five-and-dime store, desperately combing through its meager 100-capacity record bin, searching for some fresh tracks, like a new Mamas and Papas LP. I saw this white album, sporting a banana peel on its cover. I bought it for three bucks, took it home and played it on the family console stereo. It scared the hell out of me. I later learned the music was called, at least by some, ‘proto-punk’, a genre I avoided like the plague. I was all about peace, love, and long solos, man. — Until 1979, when I became sick of all that jamming. I then discovered Elvis Costello, Gang Of Four…. I went back and listened to the ‘banana peel’ LP and said, ‘This is genius!’ But no, Dude, we named ourselves after our practice of wearing velvet uniforms, which, by the way, were actually made of upholstery material.
One noted author, Michael Hicks, in his book ‘Sixties Music’, wrote about groups inventing ‘names that bespoke a retreat into the private world of drug induced dreams and hallucinations, as well as a defiance of the prevailing laws’, and he used our name as an example. I had to write him and say, I’m sorry. We named ourselves after upholstery material. That’s all. No hidden meanings, no defiance. In the Velvet Illusions, if we defied, we died! – Michael was very cool about my writing to correct him. His book has received some great reviews. (See below.)
But that’s why the outfits look so good today, 47 years later. They were made to go on a couch or a sofa. — If we weren’t too fat, or deceased, we could probably slip into ‘em right now, start playing ‘Acid Head’, and nobody would know the difference. Well, except for some white hair and wrinkles.”
Why, since you were less than 200 miles from the huge, ultra-hip city of Seattle, Washington, did you never play there?
“Well, we traveled to Seattle to make six of those great sides ya’ll collect. But we were so booked-up and occupied in the Yakima/Eastern WA area, we just never thought of, or got around to, playing in Seattle. We were always looking toward the south. Way south. Hollywood.”
Next question. So just what did Patty Hearst have to do with your band?
“Nothing! I guess someone thought it would be a gas to dream up a scenario that had our fifteen year-old phenom, Steve Weed, hooking up with Patty Hearst. Total fabrication. It’s not fair to Steve. He wrote/played/sang so well that his accomplishments speak for themselves. He doesn’t need anyone gilding the lily, so to speak. No, if we were to align with an organization it would have been the Temperance League, not the Symbionese Liberation Army. Oh, and I’m sure Patty Hearst is sick of hearing about us.
BTW, we just released a retrospective LP, simply entitled ‘Velvet Illusions’, and even our current record company referred to the Patty Hearst B.S. in their promotional material. And they took it a step further: they said she was our manager! Yeah, Dude. This was our record company. I would have thought they would read some of the material I provided them.”
Even so, it must-a been great to have a guy in the band named Steve WEED, since you guys were such rad stoners.
“You’re all wet. Steve Weed is a very devout person, and I would bet my last Dunlop guitar pick that he has never been stoned. We boys didn’t even drink beer. Had Jimi asked us, ‘Are You Experienced?’, every one of us would have answered, ‘At what?’. A cursory listen to our lyrics exposes our complete ignorance regarding the subject of getting high. Take ‘Hippy Town’, for instance. Even ‘hippie’ is spelled incorrectly. But the song was about watching hippies, not being hippies.
Oh, by the way, the lyrics of ‘Hippy Town’ are, ‘Long, long hair, way-out suits. Painted faces, knee-high boots.’ But one website, lyrics.wickia, which posts song lyrics, lists them as: ‘Long long hair, without suits. Painted faces, Indian botts.’ — And then, they try to sell you a ringtone of the song. Gimme a break! And their stab at the lyrics of ‘Stereo Song’ is even worse. Don’t get me started…. They say if I don’t like the wrong lyrics, I have to try to fix them myself. It’s like if someone breaks something beautiful you made, and looks at you and says, if you don’t like it, fix it.”
I have read many times on internet websites (people on these websites seem to copy lines from other sites) that you journeyed to Hollywood, and you ‘released 3 singles in 1967 with little success’.
“Actually we released a total of five singles, in 1966 and ‘67. I’d say we were pretty successful. Very recently, one of our 45’s, ‘Mini Shimmy’/’Hippy Town’, sold on E-Bay for $1,800! A copy of ‘Velvet Illusions’/’Born To Be A Rolling Stone’ sold there for $413 in June of 2014. So success came late. Still, without a big machine behind us, we’ve managed to reach the status of ‘highly-collectible band’. Our music was great. It just took time for it to find the right ears. — Oh, by the way, none of us receives any of that $1,800 or $413. That’s OK. If I sold a Bubble Puppy 45 on E-Bay, I wouldn’t have to give that band any money. I’m not angry about that. That’s how it works. I’d say the bragging rights are pay enough. — While we were together and playing in Yakima, we were looked down upon because we weren’t snobby, rich kids in Paul Revere and the Raiders suits. But now our music is listened to by connoisseurs on every continent. We came from the middle of nowhere, but our music is everywhere.”
Yeah, but Mark Polzen wrote in ClassicRockMusicBlog.com that you ‘youngsters couldn’t hold it together long enough to wait for fame that didn’t arrive instantaneously.’ I’ve seen that copied and pasted into so many websites, where they then make your music available for free downloading!
“Argh! If we were so pathetic, why are they sharing our entire catalog, for free? Our average age was seventeen. We worked day jobs, we practiced, we packaged and mailed records day in and day out, and played when we could. We boys were the glue that was holding it together. We never expected instantaneous success. We only left Hollywood to get out from under management that was milking us dry, that had only antiquated ideas on how to promote us. One of our management team was crediting himself as producer on our singles, for songs we recorded before we met him. Our publicity agent was a senior citizen who wanted us to jump out of an ‘aeroplane’ wearing kilts. The least-hip idea was always the one that was thrust upon us, and we were not allowed to disagree. We were told that when our LP came out, it would feature little cartoons of us instead of a real photo. We had to wear suits and ties and meet (the admittedly charming) ‘Two Ton’ Tessie O’Shea at L.A. International Airport. She supposedly (and this was written about by the famous New York Post columnist, Earl Wilson) became our friend when ‘Steve Weed wrote to her asking for ukulele lessons’. Not! Made up. This was a long, long time before Eddie Vedder made the uke popular. We would not have gone near a uke then. We would have been mocked.”
So, you mentioned earlier that some of the band members have passed on.
“We lost our great, funny, always happy, double-neck Mosrite player Dewayne Russell in 1990, and we lost our incredible, nimble-fingered drummer, Danny Wagner, but I’m not sure of the date. They both could-a played jazz, country – you name it. In fact, one of our singles, which I was so happy to sing (credited to ‘Jimmie James’ on the label) was a country song. ‘Born To Be A Rolling Stone’ just happened to feature Steve Weed’s Vox Continental organ solo; otherwise, it was pure country. – And in December of 2014, our fabulous bassist, Dale Larrison, passed away. He was just excellent. Easy to live with — you know, we all lived together in a house on Hobart Avenue. Any similarity to the Grateful Dead is purely coincidental….
Get this! Since I’m talking about members who have gone on to the Big Sky Jam Session: I just learned that the boy who played lead guitar on the last four songs the band recorded, after I quit, was named Roland Bautista. And two years after all the boys from Yakima left Hollywood, Roland, who remained in California, joined Earth, Wind & Fire! Who would know that there’s a Velvet Illusions/Earth, Wind & Fire connection? Well, sad to say, Roland, whom I never met, passed away in 2012. Listen to “Lazy”, if you want to hear him playing all out.
Would you like to reunite the band?
“Sure, if the money is right. I’m sorry! I’ve always wanted to say that. There’s not many of us left. And, seriously, I don’t know where we’d play. Our fans live all over the globe. – Five here, ten there…. Perhaps we could just do a live webcast from someone’s basement! I know just the guy to produce a light show for us. (Hello Gray Newell!)”
When we broke up, we scattered to the four winds. At present though, several of us have located each other, and three of us even speak! — We’re in our 60’s now. That’s why it’s so cool to have people all over the world digging our music. It’s so comforting in our old age (laughs). People in the senior citizens’ home where I live have no idea who the hell I am; but I can sit in a coffee shop with a young person, strike up a conversation, and they tell me that The Velvet Illusions are on their I-Pod! What more could I want?”
We’re getting near the end here, Randy. But I must ask: Were you really in a band with Alice In Chains’ founder/drummer, Sean Kinney? ‘Cause that would be quite a career span: ‘Garage to Grunge’.
“Great title for a future article! Look, I’m not gonna deny it. — Tell ya later. We have all the time in the world.”
Then that wraps it up. Any final thoughts you’d like to share, especially with the young folks?
“Yeah. Define success in your own terms. Some people do become an ‘instantaneous’ success. For most, it takes a while. Don’t give in, don’t give up. Do it your way, do it yourself. That’s the rock ‘n roll way. Put your all into it. And, ask yourself: will this hold up, or will it embarrass me in 20 years? I can honestly say, we Velvet Illusions put everything we had into making our records nearly 50 years ago, and I am as far from being embarrassed as a guy could be. Finally, let me thank everyone who cares about our music. You make my day every time I hear from you.”
Video: Randy “Jimmie James” Bowles, May, 2014, singing his original composition, “Elder Hippie” at Black Coffee Coop, Seattle, Washington: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWlQnxFb9Rw
Contact Randy Bowles on Facebook @ “Velvet Illusions Fans”