The One Eyed Jacks
by Ben McLane, Esq.
One of the most popular and talented pop/rock groups from the Midwest region in the late 1960s was the "One Eyed Jacks" ("Jacks"). Formed in 1966 at the University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, the key members were Budd Carr (vocals), George Harvey (guitar), Barry Fasman (keys), Bill Schneider (bass), Bob Amran (sax) and Bill Gedzun (drums). Barry Fasman and Budd Carr provide some history on the group.
States Carr, who was there from inception: "The group was originally a frat band made up of members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. We were a cover band that played for beer. Robert Nutt saw the band perform at a frat party early on, suggested we write our own material, and he became the manager. Subsequently, Nutt hired Irving Azoff - who was then booking teen dances in his hometown of Danville, Illinois - to book the band."
According to Fasman, "our managers/booking agents, Nutt and Azoff, were the key for us. They knew that courting disc jockeys would be helpful so that we could get airplay for our records. Hence, we would pay disc jockeys to MC our shows." By way of this courtship process came one of the bands's biggest supporters: WLS radio of Chicago's popular and influential DJ, Art Roberts.
The Jack's first recording was in 1967 for the Chess subsidiary, Lake Side, called "Die Today" b/w "Somewhere They Can't Find Me." "I believe Elliot Abbott, who produced our early demos, produced this record," recalls Carr. "Marshall Chess wanted to get into rock & roll and signed us." That single died a quiet death. (Ironically, the Chess catalog, including the Lake Side sessions, was purchased by MCA when Azoff was head of MCA in the 1980s.)
The Jack's next recording came out on the small White Cliffs label. "Love" b/w "Sun So High" are excellent slices of vocal-laden psych pop, circa 1967. The record did not get the anticipated airplay in Chicago and consequently went nowhere.
However, on the plus column, the Jacks became an in-demand live act in the Chicago area at this time. Recalls Fasman, "we played on the same bills as the Buckinghams, Cryan' Shames, New Colony Six, and the American Breed. Although we did not have a hit record, we were one of the big name groups in Chicago. Azoff and Nutt set up dates opening for national acts such as The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Hollies, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. At the Doors show, there was a near riot because allegedly Morrison exposed himself." It was during this period that Rick Joswick replaced Gedzun on drums (who later died in a car accident).
Through the concerted efforts of Azoff, Nutt and Roberts, the group was signed to the legendary New York based label, Roulette, run by Morris Levy, which at that time was a Tommy James and the Shondells hit factory. The first Roulette release was "California's Callin'" b/w "Together We're In Love" ('69). "These tracks were produced by Dick Marx, who ran a big jingle music production company in Chicago (and who incidentally is singer Richard Marx's father). Although not credited on the disc, Steve Sperry, one of Marx's staff producers, contributed as a producer," adds Fasman. Laced with horns to give it the "Chicago sound," these strong sides also failed to chart. Again, this is probably due in part to the fact that the disc did not receive much Chicago airplay.
The Jack's last Roulette release was entitled "Sky of My Mind" b/w "Getting In Your Groove." These songs were produced by Ron Haffkine (who later produced Dr. Hook). The horn arrangement on "Sky of My Mind" was done by Joe Renzetti (who arranged many great pop sides in the 1960s and who won an academy award for his score to the late 1970s film "The Buddy Holly Story"). States Fasman, "the band hated that horn arrangement. We could not believe how bad the horn arrangement was. The horns are not in tune. However, "Sky of My Mind" had the best shot at charting because we did get airplay on WLS." Sadly, this record fared no better than their previous waxed efforts.
Predictably, with the failure of the recordings, in 1969 the band started going through some major personnel changes. Lead singer and group founder Carr was replaced by Mike Murphy. "The band told me I could not sing," chuckles Carr, in retrospect. Murphy joined in time to sing lead on the Roulette singles. "Harvey and I were replaced in late 1969 by Tom Kelly and Doug Livingston, who went on to very successful careers," says Fasman. With the Murphy, Kelly, Livingston line-up, the band continued on as a heavy blues-rock band until 1973. Remarks Fasman, "the popularity of the band began to slip once Budd Carr was kicked out of the band. Although Murphy may have been a better lead singer, Carr was the essence of the band." (After the Jacks finally broke up, Kelly and Livingston recorded for Arista and CBS as Fools Gold. Kelly then became a famous songwriter co-penning hit tunes for artists such as Madonna, Cindi Lauper and Pat Benatar. Livingston became an in- demand steel pedal session musician working on albums by Jennifer Warnes, Juice Newton, etc. Murphy went on to record three albums with REO Speedwagon.)
Although the Jacks never achieved chart success, they were a wellspring for several music industry success stories:
Group member Carr went on to become a successful agent in Chicago, and then an artist manager in Los Angeles, overseeing the careers of famous acts such as Kansas, Henry Gross, Le Roux, and Slaughter. Carr is also at present the music supervisor for the Oliver Stone films. Explains Carr, "after I was kicked out and got my release from Roulette, Artie Wayne and Ron Haffkine tried unsuccessfully to get me a solo deal. Morris Levy actually gave me my start in management because he got me a job as an agent at Creative Management Associates."
Group manager Azoff became a highly successful music executive in Los Angeles. In the 1970s, he managed acts such as REO Speedwagon, the Eagles, Dan Fogelberg, Jimmy Buffett, and Steely Dan. In the 1980s, he became a record label head for MCA Records and later Giant Records (now known as Revolution Records).
The group's first producer, Elliot Abbott, got involved in artist management in the 1970s, working with the Carpenters, among others. He also later became a film producer, noted for his work with Penny Marshall.
The group's road manager, John Baruck, later went on to become the co-manager of REO Speedwagon with Azoff. He still manages REO today, along with Gino Vanelli, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Christopher Cross.
As for Fasman, he chronicles: "When I got kicked out of the band, I stuck around Champaign for about a year and produced local groups, including REO Speedwagon, which was a great experience for me. Then, I moved to Chicago and I got a job with Dick Marx producing groups and he sent me to Los Angeles and New York to try and get record deals. I was unsuccessful, but I caught the eye of Bill Traut, Jim Golden and Bob Monaco of Dunwich Productions in Chicago (Dunwich had churned out many a hit for Midwest acts in the 1960s). They hired me as a staff arranger."
"After Dunwich ceased operations, in 1971 Traut and Golden made a deal with RCA and Jerry Weintraub (the manager of John Denver, Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Carpenters) whereby a new Los Angeles based record company was formed called Wooden Nickel. I moved to Los Angeles at that time. Between 1971-73, I worked on numerous Wooden Nickel records (e.g., Styx, Megan McDonough) that regrettably all stiffed. However, I really learned how to arrange and conduct from that stint."
"I later went on to arrange tracks for Melissa Manchester ("Don't Cry Out Loud), Eric Carmen (of Raspberries) ("It Hurts Too Much"), Bay City Rollers ("The Way I Feel Tonight"), Air Supply ("Every Woman In the World"), Diana Ross ("It's My turn") and Allan Clarke (of Hollies). I also got the group Champaign a deal with CBS. They had hits with "How Bout Us" and "Try Again.""
"I have Azoff to thank for my greatest success. Azoff knew I had gotten Champaign a record deal on CBS and he was impressed, so he called Charles Koppelman and got me a deal with Koppelman as a writer/producer. That led to producing Johnny Mathis and then the music for "Fame" the hit TV show which aired on NBC from 1981-84. "Fame" became a phenomenon in Europe. In 1982 I was the producer of the year in Great Britain." (Ironically, Steve Sperry, the Jack's one-time producer, became Fasman's co-writer of the songs used in the TV show "Fame.") Post "Fame," Fasman has concentrated his efforts on scoring for TV and film.
The only known Jack's material available on CD came out on a 1989 compilation entitled: "Record Service 20th Birthday (20 Years of Music from Champaign-Urbana)," which included the previously unreleased cut from 1969, "Wake Me, Shake Me." Since Rhino now owns the Roulette masters, there is always a possibility of a CD release of the Jack's in the future.
In closing, Fasman sums up the story of the Jack's with some words of wisdom that can be applied to any endeavor and which certainly are true for the music business: "If we would have stuck with it like REO Speedwagon, we probably would have made some real noise as a band."Copyright 1997, Ben McLane
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