Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pushin' Too Hard: Recollections from Former Seeds Drummer Carl Belknap

In anticipation of our world premiere of a new definitive documentary on The Seeds, "Pushin' Too Hard", frequent Egyptian Theatre-goer Carl Belknap talked to us about the year he spent as the punk pioneering band's drummer. Here are his recollections in his own words: 

When I first heard The Beatles on the radio, I knew I had to be in a band. It became an obsession. Not being able to carry a tune & not knowing an A from an E, I decided to become a drummer. In 1963, at age 15, I taught myself to play the drums. One year later, I was a founding member of The Eliminators surf band. We changed our name to Glass in 1965 & in the next few years, opened for The Box Tops, The Standells and Booker T & The MGs.

Richard France, whom I had known from my high school days, had become The Seeds road manager. He invited me to come to a couple of their recording sessions in Hollywood. In early 1968, at about the time Glass was sort of dissolving, Rick [Andridge] left The Seeds. Richard, knowing that I could play most of The Seeds’ songs, arranged for me to have an audition at Sky’s [Saxon] house in Malibu.

He lived in the Big Rock area, in a house overlooking the ocean. As I walked down the very long driveway, I saw the garage door was open. The first thing I noticed was Rick’s drums with The Seeds on the bass drum head. Then I saw Sky, Daryl [Hooper] & Jan [Savage] waiting for me. It was then that it set in that I was about to audition for what had been my favorite band for the past two years.

Carl & Jan Savage after a Seeds show in 2003

After exchanging pleasantries, I was asked if I knew a particular song, the name I can’t recall. So we played it, discussed other songs, then played a couple more. Fortunately I had performed all three with Glass, so I knew my parts. Sky, Jan & Daryl held a pow wow and a couple of minutes later asked if I would like to join the band. We immediately began rehearsing and going over some new material.

When we took breaks for lunch, we were always recognized as soon as we entered the restaurant. It didn't take long for the buzz to fill the room. Our rehearsals always drew a crowd, mostly neighbors. But on one occasion, I saw someone who looked familiar walking down the driveway. As he got closer I could see it was Mike Love from The Beach Boys, the very same Beach Boys that I saw perform at my church on New Year’s Eve 1961. It was my first concert.

It wasn’t until several rehearsals later that I was told we had a gig coming up at Melodyland, which at the time was across the street from Disneyland. A limo was scheduled to pick us up for the gig. Somehow, I didn’t feel comfortable riding with the band in a limo because there had been nothing I had contributed to merit such luxury. So I picked up my girlfriend, Esther (now my wife of 43 years) & drove myself to the venue.

We never rehearsed a set list, so I didn’t know what songs we would do or how long we would play. I recall that in the dressing room, Sky said we were opening with "Tripmaker" followed by "Mr. Farmer". I asked if we could reverse their order, because Glass frequently opened with Mr. Farmer. 

I had no idea until we left the dressing room that the venue was in the round. We walked down an aisle through the audience. It was my first gig with The Seeds & they told me to lead the way. I couldn’t have been more nervous. When I got to the stage, I saw the speaker cabinets were laying on their backs, so everyone in the audience could hear. I played my heart out that night & the 30 plus minute set was over in what seemed like an instant.
Carl & Sky Saxon after a show in 2003

Afterwards, I was asked for autographs, sticks & my phone number. When I said I wouldn't give out my number, they asked me for Sky’s. They didn't get that one either, at least not from me.

I hadn't given any thought as to whether I would be paid, I was so honored to be asked to join The Seeds. After the show, Daryl handed me a check signed by both him & Jan. Stupidly, I cashed the check without first photo copying it for posterity.

A few weeks passed & I was told The Seeds were going on a tour on the West Coast & they wanted to keep me as their drummer. In the excitement of being in the band, all thoughts of the Vietnam War unconsciously had been set aside. Being told we were going to go on tour made me stop & think that at age 20, I was the perfect age to be drafted & sent overseas. Sky said not to worry, that their lawyers would get me out of it. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided the only way to guarantee avoid being drafted was to return to college. One of the most difficult things I've ever done was to tell Sky I had to bow out.

A few months later, while driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, I stopped at Sky’s house to find The Seeds rehearsing. I noticed they were a 5 piece band, using two guitarists. When the rehearsal was over, Jan told me he was leaving the band. He didn't say why and I didn't ask.

I next saw Sky in the early 2000s at a couple of Seeds shows in Hollywood. When I went back stage at one of them, Sky said “I remember you. Weren't you the one who left the band to go to college?” I saw both Sky & Jan perform at a show in 2003. There had been a rumor going around for some time that Jan had been in the L.A.P.D. In talking with him after the show, I had to ask if it were true. He laughed & said no.

      Carl & Daryl Hooper at Sky Saxon's memorial in 2003
I contacted Sky about a year before his passing to say I had come across a recording of The Seeds show at Melodyland. It sounded as though it had been recorded by someone in the audience. Sky was very excited and wanted Global Recording Artists to spruce up the sound and have it officially released on a CD. Unfortunately, he passed away before that could happen.

I was one of just three drummers, from a multitude of drummers Sky had in his various bands over the years, to perform with what was called “The Seeds” at his memorial in July 2009 at Echoplex in L.A. Daryl, whom I hadn’t seen since 1968, was on keyboards. I sang back up vocals on "Pushin’ Too Hard" with Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins and took over the drumming duties on "Evil Hoodoo" and the final song of the night, "No Escape". Karl Anderson told me he recorded the show for both a CD & DVD release. My fingers are still crossed but they’re getting tired.                

Glass reformed in 1999 and we performed fairly frequently. I retired from drumming in 2012 after we opened to a packed house for Dick Dale at Brixton South Bay. It was quite appropriate, because the first 45 that I owned was "Let’s Go Trippin’" by Dick Dale and Glass had begun as a surf band. 

-Carl Belknap 

Pushin' Too Hard will be having its world premiere at the Egyptian Theatre (6712 Hollywood Blvd, 90028) on Saturday, August 16th at 7:30 pm. We'll be joined by special guests including Neil Norman, producer Alec Palao and Seeds members Daryl Hooper and Jan Savage! 

For more information on the event, click here [x]  

Buy tickets at Fandango [x]