WAY THEY WERE
By Russell R. Holster Jr.
Few bands in the history of rock and roll have had more ups and
downs than Paul Revere and the Raiders. Rarely mentioned these
days in the same breath with the all-time rock and roll greats,
Paul Revere and the Raiders once seemed bigger than the Beatles.
OK, only for a short while... and only in America... and in retrospect
thanks largely to the power of television and the teeny-bopper
The years were 1965 and 1966. The Beatles'
Capitol Records album Beatles VI was their most lackluster, and
they weren't even selling out their American concerts. Herman's
Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, Freddie and the Dreamers, Gerry & the Pacemakers, were headed
on a downward spiral or already spent. The vaunted "British
Invasion" was visibly and aurally losing steam. Meanwhile,
in California, the sun was shining brightly on a new pop music
television show called "Where the Action Is" and its
star attraction, Paul Revere and the Raiders.
Combining a jangly blend of blue-eyed soul,
oldtime rock and roll and twanging 60s guitars with a wild and
crazy stage act custom-made for TV, the Raiders were stars before
they had a big hit single. Who needs hits when you have personality
and a TV show? The Action-era Raiders were brimming with charisma.
Fronted by Mark Lindsay, with trademark ponytail and breathy
vocals, joined by baby-faced bass player Phil "Fang" Volk, stylish guitarist Drake Levin,
cool and steady drummer Mike "Smitty" Smith, and uncle
figure/madcap leader Paul Revere... all decked out in funky colonial
costume, the Raiders were nothing if not colorful. They quickly
soared from Action's "backup band" to front and center
But it didn't take long for the hits to come rolling along. And
they did roll: Just Like Me, Kicks, Hungry and Good Thing are the
classics, with Steppin' Out, Great Airplane Strike, Ups and Downs
and Him or Me a notch below for the prime time Raiders.
A distinction must be made because through
their history (actually continuing to this day) there have been
many Paul Revere and the Raiders. Only Paul Revere has been in
all of them. Lead singer Lindsay was in from the start through
1975, when he finally bailed to concentrate on a solo career
which had produced two hits, "Silverbird" and "Arizona" while
he was with the Raiders but would flounder after he officially
left the group.
In the early days and after their Action years,
quite a number of players called themselves Raiders. Of significant
interest was guitarist Freddy Weller, who rocked with the Raiders
from 1968 through 1973. Weller scored hits on his own as a country
star while he was with the Raiders and for some years afterward.
But for those of us who loved them in their prime, there were
only six real Raiders: the original Action boys -- Paul, Mark,
Smitty, Drake, Fang -- and in 1966 Drake's replacement, Jim Valley,
whose Raider moniker was "Harpo".
In those days, a band's persona, its image in the eyes of its
fans, was created and sustained not only by the music but also
by the sense of comraderie, commitment and personality that the
group reflected. Few groups could boast that their fans knew, by
first name or nickname, all of their members. In that number were
the Beatles, the Stones, later on the Monkees, and in 1965, Paul
Revere and the Raiders. So it was with anxiety that Raider fans
learned in 1966 that guitarist Drake had left the group to join
the National Guard before being drafted.
Drake had been, literally, instrumental in
crafting the mid-60s Raiders sound. It was his double-tracked
signature guitar riffs, as much as Lindsay's voice and Terry
Melcher's production work, that carried "Steppin' Out", "Just Like Me" and "Kicks".
Upon Drake's departure in the spring of '66, Revere plucked Jim
Valley out of a kindred Northwest band, Don & the Goodtimes,
noticed a resemblance to Marx Brother Harpo, and thus dubbed the
newest Raider. Jim joined the guys on Action, in the studio and
on a furious tour schedule, just as "Hungry", "Good
Thing" and "Great Airplane Strike" soared toward
the top of the charts. His personality, if anything even brighter
than Drake's, swept over any reluctance true fans felt over Levin's
* * * * * * * * *
I met Paul Revere and the Raiders in November, 1966, at the Ector
County Coliseum in Odessa, Texas. It was my first rock and roll
concert. I was 14 years old. A friend and I finagled our way
backstage a few hours before the show and eagerly volunteered
to help set up the drum kit that would be used by all of the
five or six acts on the bill. Afterwards, we carried guitars
to the dressing rooms.
The first Raider that I saw was Jim Valley. Star-struck, I gushed, "I
know who you are, you're Harpo!" "Yeah, Hi," Jim
said in return. That was it, verbatim. I remember because I wrote
it down in my journal the next day. I met the other band members,
too, along with Keith Allison, the Robbs and Steve Alaimo, and
remember them all as being cordial though none of their comments
were recorded for posterity.
Little could I, or any of the hundreds of thousands
of devoted Paul Revere and the Raiders fans who saw them in concert
that year, have realized that the end was near for Harpo as a
Raider and for the Raiders as a relevant rock and roll band.
Jim left the group in early '67 because of musical and lifestyle
differences with Revere, Melcher and Lindsay. Primarily he was
frustrated that he was not given the opportunity to meaningfully
contribute to the band's musical direction and song collection.
As the hits "Ups
and Downs" and "Him Or Me" danced upon the airwaves,
Jim Valley, his guitar and his smile stepped into pop music oblivion...
at least for awhile.
When Harpo, and soon after Fang and Smitty,
left the group, the final illusion of Paul Revere and the Raiders
as a real rock and roll band evaporated. Left behind were Lindsay,
Paul Revere and producer Terry Melcher, but they were revealed
as Oz-like men behind the curtain of a hit-making machine that
was about to be short circuited by a rising tide of truly authentic
rockers such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, the San Francisco
groups, the Doors, not to mention the resurgent genius of the
Beatles. For me, and I think many other PR&R fans, the group
lost its relevance when its power trio said goodbye in 1967.
Harpo, Fang and Smitty were replaced by Weller,
Charlie Coe and Joe Correro Jr., respectively (Keith Allison
would later replace Coe as bassist for an extended run). Technically,
these players were probably stronger musicians than the guys
they replaced, but only a string of less than classic hits ensued: "I Had A Dream", "Peace
Of Mind" (after which Melcher ceased to work with the band), "Too
Much Talk", "Don't Take It So Hard" (probably the
best of this bunch of records), "Cinderella Sunshine", "Mr.
Sun, Mr. Moon", "Let Me", "We Gotta All Get
By 1970-71, Lindsay had scored big hits with "Silverbird" and "Arizona".
However, he was still officially a member of the Raiders... who
desperately needed a hit. Lindsay offered Revere his already-recorded
song, "Indian Reservation". In the summer of 1971, the
song reached No. 1 on the charts, the first and only Raiders' song
to manage that feat.
But it was a novelty song... not a true rock
and roll band number. Rather than revitalizing Paul Revere and
the Raiders, "Indian
Reservation" was the group's swansong... in much the same
manner as Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" and Glen
Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy", their biggest hits, also
signaled the end of their primal careers.
And so Paul Revere and the Raiders ceased to
exist as a recording band. Lindsay's solo career likewise came
to an unheralded end. By 1977, he had "retired" from
music. Little by little, they have been largely forgotten, unadored
by music critics and coolsters.
In retrospect, Paul Revere and the Raiders were always a novelty
band. Mugging for the camera, it often seemed as if fun came first,
music second with the Raiders. That formula worked brilliantly
at first. But the schtick that brought them their first fame did
not wear well as the 60s progressed.
Still, though they may have lacked the vision
and originality of a few other bands of the era, Paul Revere
and the Raiders managed to craft some of the 60s best pop songs. "Just Like Me", "Kicks" and "Hungry" stand
as three of rock and roll's all-time anthems... and Mark Lindsay's
pipes are perhaps the most underrated in the history of rock.
Jim Valley's last performance with Paul Revere and the Raiders.
No doubt, the Raiders were a fun band... and for just a short
year or two, the coolest of the cool. I think I speak for many
thousands of Raiders fans in saying a smile still always comes
to my face and the foot still starts tapping whenever I hear Paul
Revere and the Raiders. Thanks, guys for the way you were.
* * * * * * * * *
I met up with Jim Valley again 32 years later in Gig Harbor, Washington.
He was performing for a group of children, who were mesmerized
by his songs and his charm. As I watched I was mesmerized, too.
There was a bit of my youth before me, "Harpo" of Paul
Revere and the Raiders. The eyes I had seen before, long ago.
The voice I had heard before. The music I had not. What was this
rather un-Raider-like incarnation? I listened, opened once again
to Jim Valley's guitar, and loved what I heard.
I walked up to him afterward and exclaimed, "Jim, last time
I laid eyes on you was in Texas, 1966." He looked perplexed,
then smiled, "Paul Revere and the Raiders."
Since that day we have become friends, made some music together,
and worked on the Rainbow Planet web site. I feel as if I truly
have discovered a long lost friend, one whom I didn't get a chance
to really know long ago.
What I have noticed is that magic hangs close to Jim Valley. He
lives in a magical world, and draws upon that enchantment in sharing
music and ideas that are more beautiful and relevant than anything
by Paul Revere and the Raiders. That's not to disparage the Raiders.
They were right and timely in 1965-66. J.V. is right and timely
for the new millennium.
One day recently I called Jim and invited him
to go to a concert with me in University Place (near Tacoma)...
to see a singer by the name of Mark Lindsay. The next thing I
know Mark is announcing to a standing-room only crowd that "a very special guest is
in the audience... the guy who played guitar on all those Paul
Revere and the Raider hits... please welcome "Harpo!!!" Drake
may have choked on Lindsay's introduction, but the audience didn't
know any better and loved it. There before our eyes was Mark in
his Raider coat and Jim with a Gibson 335, arm-in-arm, sounding
great singing "Good Thing", and doing the Raider step-dance.
A snippet of 1966 time-warped to 1998. I scanned the audience.
All eyes, some misty with sheer joy, were riveted on the two "real" Raiders,
once again bringing a darned good thing to their fans.
As Mark continued with his show (and he sounds
as great as ever, by the way), Jim patiently signed autographs
for a slew of middle-aged folks shoving ragged Raiders album
covers and old faded black-and-white glossies at him. One lady
carried a portfolio of pencil portraits she had drawn in 1966.
There was heartthrob Mark Lindsay. She had renditions of "Fang" and "Smitty" and the ever-present
Paul Revere. And in the back of the portfolio she had a remarkable
charcoal-smudged likeness of a 20-year-old kid with the wacky nickname "Harpo."
The fun-loving spirit of Harpo lives on in Jim's
music today... except not as a caricature but fully realized in
all of the multiple dimensions through which Jim Valley cavorts.
Ironically, the primary beneficiaries of his modern-day musical
alchemy are the kids, or even the kids of the kids, of we old Raiders
fans. That still seems a bit strange to me. Wasn't it only a very
short time ago that I was watching Jim onstage with Paul Revere
and the Raiders? And now here he is, 30 years on, crafting a career
that is exponentially more important than his first fling with
You have to root for Jim Valley. He is a rare soul, a natural
born entertainer, a magical songwriter, gifted singer and all-around
good guy. And he has friends in all the right places... the children
of the world... who know a good thing when they hear it.