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During the Flying Burrito Brothers tour of Europe in 1985 I had the pleasure of talking to Skip Battin. Our conversation was long and interesting and done in Hilversum, Holland.
Would you please tell me something about your musical background and what you did before entering the Byrds?
Well, let's go back to my highschool period. I had a group called The Evergreen Bluesshoes in LA at a time when the Byrds started out here. And they had a hugh influence on me in '64 and '65. I was playing with my group nightclub music, dressed in suits and ties, 4 hours a night and 6 days a week, making pretty good money in the LA circuit. This is something that hardly happens anymore but that's where you really lurn to play your instrument. Every nght during 5, 6 years. It was pretty straight as the world was pretty straight right then. The Beatles were coming in and we kinda Beatle-izedourselves. And one night I went to see the Byrds. They were making a splash with their new sound in LA and Frisco, new image and new philosophy becoming the American Beatles with what was called Folkrock. Roger McGuinn, genius as he sometimes is, had converted from a folksinger with a guitar to a folksinger with an electric 12 string guitar. It was a brandnew sound, a brandnew image. I was there and that changed my attitude and how I wanted to play my music. I know that they influenced thousands of peopleand even more musicians along the Westcoast . We reformed the Evergreen Bluesshoes, gave up the nightclubs, changed our image, took a long shot chance and had an album out on AMOS records which didn't do anything. It was a concept album but it got lost between all the albums of similar groups. And my dream was to be as succesful as the Byrds doing that type of thing. Fortunately I was asked to join the very group; a group that I idolized and were my heroes.
Were you asked by Roger himself?
It's was pretty hard to know what they were talking about before they hired me. They needed a bassplayer. I met Clarence White during my Evergreen period through my friend All Ross, our guitarplayer, who was a good friend of Clarence. We played together in living rooms. So we knew each other casually because he was very busy at the time: he was a Byrd. One day I was called to do a demo session for Bob Raphkin; during this time I joined the Bouddhist organization where you were supposed to get yourself right with the universe to get your karma, what you deserve and things like that, Bob was in it as well. The session had Gene Parsons on drums as well.So we had a good time. A week or ten days later I got a call from him; if I was interested in joining ther Byrds. I said I was and he asked me to come over for rehearsels and a try-out. I said give me a week to think about it and I spent a week studying all Byrds songs and I got the dea I was going to make it, that my life was changing in a positive way. So, I met Roger the first time at the rehearsal and played one Byrds song affter another on stage in an empty hall and it came through real well. they asked : Do you wanna go through and on the road with us next week? And I wasn't doing much at the time exept hanging around in my own studio, I accepted. That started it. The first gig was in Charleston, West Virginia at a college on friday,saturday and sunday. We were on the road and didn't rehears much, we learned while playing. It was easy material. Do you know that good material is easy material? The Byrds were easy to get into.My style fit theirs and theirs fit mine.. It was a real good thing that started in 1969 and lasted until 1973.
You wrote a lot of songs for the Byrds with your co-writer Kim Fowley. Tell something about him.
I met Kim during a period I was part of a duo called Skip & Flip. This was way back in 1959. This was before the nightclub jobs; in 1959 and 1960. Flip was Gary Paxton. He and I started playing together in Tucson,Arizona. We recorded a record down there and to our surprise, made the Top 10.so we went on the road and had a couple of good years. We also had a couple of records in the charts. And when we did a recording session in Hollywood Kim walked in with a friend of his. He weighted 130 lbs and was 6.5 feet high, a striking figure. He introduced himselfand after a few days he became our manager. We already had one in New York but Kim had a lot of enthousiasm, a lot of talent, a lot of ideas, very expressive. We worked with Kim for a while. He wrote songs along with Gary and with the both of us. He produced stuff under different names, He produced the Hollywood Argyles, involved in Alley-oop and Monster Mash. Kim worked more with Gary because they were both based in La and I was still in Arizona. And when I moved to LA we kinda renewed our frienship and Gary had left the area, So since the early sixties Kim is a good friend of mine.We started writing songs in 1960 or 1961. Nothing really made it but we wrote and produced a lot together. We did something with Gene Vincent one time.Kim was the idea man and I was the executioner because he is not a musician. He' an idea man as far as lyrics go, as a producer, for selling mastertapes and I was doing the composing, the additional lyrics, the fine tuning of the lyrics. We worked steady off and on but before I entered the Byds there was a period when we worked steadily together and wrote a lot of songs. Then I started with the Byrds and we continued writing together, getting better, understanding each other better.
I guess the Byrds accepted you ommeiately as a musician and a songwriter. I think your influence was pretty strong?
They did. Because I came in fresh, with new material which is an advantage. And they wanted to give my songs a chance. The first album I did was "Untitled"and I was very proud being part of it. I had 3 or 4 songs on it and also on the next one. I did three albums with the Byrds. Kim pushed very hard to be the producer of the group. While Terry Melcher was pretty solid in there. He was close with Roger and a real profrssional. I worked with Kim during the Byrds period and during the New Riders period and I still have things Kim and I worked on, But he ain' around anymore; he went to Australia. But there are still a lot of things that never came out.
Back to the Byrds. What was the reason they stopped?
I really don't know. I don't know the true facts about that. At the end , we'd hit a plateau. We weren't growing anymore. Things got a little tired, maybe some personnal conflicts developed as they do and they will over a 5 year period and maybe Roger felt it was time for a change.
I think that Roger always felt like doing solo gigs; just him and his guitar. Did he finish the Byrds because of that?
That's what he's up to now and what he'l continue doing. I think when we broke up the Byrds there was a lot of pressure from the experts, the original Byrds to do a reunion and that's what they did. Gene Parsons was the first one to go, replaced by John Guerin and other dummers. Roger himself said; Gene it's time for you to go. And then it was time for me to go. So there was only Roger and Clarence left only for one weekend. They only played for one weekend without me. That was the end. After that there was no more Byrds. At the last gig there was Chris Hillman,Clarence White,Joe Lala and Roger McGuinn.
The reunion album flopped. Was that Roger's idea?
As I said it was not. It was the experts like David Geffen from the recordcompany who offered him a contract for the reunionalbum. But Roger got a little tired of the other guys and was looing fir new things. He later had other bands but never called them Byrds although Thunderbyrd came close and he worked again with Chris and Gene and did solo projects.
Skip, you left the Byrds in '73 and joined the Riders in '75. What did you do in between?
There wasn't so much time in between. The Byrds broke up in february '73 and late '73 I was contacted by an agent, a friend of mine and also the the agent who booked the Byrds during the years I was in the group, but he also booked the New Riders. He asked if I would wanna play in another group. He said: This group would be fantastic for you, it's The New Riders Of The Purple Sage. So I went to see them play in San Francisco. I met them a week later and played with them in their rehearsel hall. It was like I first played with the Byrds. We went through their material and started doing gigs. So I came in as a new influence and my songs were put into the act and into the recordings. So I actually started in 1974.
The live album Home On The Road was released in 1974 but you weren't on it so it was finished a year ago and only released in 1974?
(For the whole story about this album: click here)
When I came in it was the current album so abviously it had been recorded in 1973.. The same thing happened with the Byrds. I also joined them after a new album had just been released. But the next one in 1975 was Brujo. That' s one of the albums I'm glad to be associated with.
You did fit in real well because John Dawson used to wrote the songs. He wrote about train robbery (Glendale train) , bootlegging ( Whiskey) and such and then you came in with Singin'cowboys and Neon Rose about a girl who dreams she's a killer with a frozen nose!
These songs were written during the time I wa in te New Riders. It was a kinda unusual approach to all the songs that were on the Panama Red album. It was Kim's idea and I said: Why not? I didn't know if the Riders would accepy a song like that but Spencer Dryden really liked that song and as you know; he sang it. Singing cowboys was specifically written for the New Riders. It was because Hollywood announced that they were looking for a singing cowboy to play a role in a new movie and eventually wanted him to become as big as Roy Rogers or Gene Autrey. The whole process was like the song, they had rodeo guys, they had everybody lined up for that audition. So that made us write the song and we thought it would be tailormade for the Riders and we put it on Brujo.
Then came Oh What A Mighty Time. Compared to Brujo it was disappointing. Some people said it had to do with producer Bob Johnston. But was that the reason? He did good jobs with Dylan, Byrds and the New Riders.
Brujo was produced by Ed Freeman. He wasn't a strong personality, he more or less let us do what we wanted to do which isn't exactly a professional way of handling things. Very loose, very casual, their way of approaching an album. The LA people say it's Marin County style.
Too relaxed. But it worked very well so after all Ed Freeman is maybe a ery smart man to realize that. But Bob Johnston came in and took over. He' a very high spirited strong individual, he'd make a great general, his troops would follow him anywhere, because he has that charisma and he wanted to change the way the New Riders recorded their songs and it became a little unnatural to us.
Probably because he wanted to have the Riders to have a hit record; they never had one.
Not really. They never had a real hit reord. Of course he was looking for something commercial and also for something different. He brought in all the girl singers. Did he pick the songs for the album? Yes,many of them . Do you remember some? Yes,La Bamba, Farewell Angelina, Rednecks,white socks and blue ribbon bear,On top of Old Smokey. Yeah, I remember now. Old Smokey came from the Riders; Angelina came from Bob so we had our saying but it didn't matter because the method of recording and the period of producing were his ideas. The New Riders didn't have the influence on this one as they had one their previous albums. And the Riders didn't perform so well under these strict conditions. They didn't respond so well to Johnston's approach.
I think, and that has nothing to do with you, that the Riders' best albums are those with a lot of John Dawson songs.
Yes, he was Mr. New Riders Look at their first album with songs like Glendale Train. But everybody's first album is good because it's built up with material from the previous years. Then you have a few months to prepare for the next one but you're busier than ever, working on the road, doing things at home, very tired and the second album many times suffers til you get back on your feet, til you find out how to do it under pressure. But the first one was the best, it was John Dawson's album and they got it back on Panama Red. It gave him another kick. It had good songs, sold well although it had less Dawson and more Torbert and Nelson songs at this time. Then came Brujo which was a kind of a Dawson album,recorded in New Riders style and then came a lot of changes with Johnston.
Then you signed for MCA, releasing an album with , exept one, only covers. Did you all lack inspiration or was this the company's wish?
By the time we were going to MCA I was approached by my old friend Gene Parsons who asked me if I didn't wanna play with my old friends. And I was a little tired with the New Riders. Oh What A Mighty Time lacked inspiration, so I got no real gratification from that one; at least the way it turned out to be although it had some good songs. Then came the deal with MCA. So I had to choose. Singing for MCA would mean stay with the New Riders. I didn't want that so I didn't sign for MCA and joined the Flying Burrito Brothers. They were on Columbia and were recording an album while the New Riders did one for MCA at the same time. The Riders wanted me to stay and do the MCA project and I did it. I think, but that's personnal, it' s the best New Riders album. I listened back to the album and enjoyed it. I only sang on 1 song but I enjoyed listening to that albm and playing on it.
You never recorded with the Flying Burrito Brothers?
The FBB started with Airborne and I was in Marin County finishing the New Riders first MCA album talking on the phone to the Burritos. They started without me. When I was ready with the New Riders I left and drove down to LA right into the parking lot of the studio, walked in, picked up my guitar and finished that album. I didn't have much influence on it because I got in it halfway. I don't think it's a superalbum. It doesn't seem to be well co-ordinated.
And it's very far from the original FBB albums.
It doesn't seem to have the continuity in itself. I never play it. I never play any of these albums actually.
Although the band had great musiciand like Gb, Gene ,Sneaky Pete the album wasn't well received. Too progressive, or what? Anyway, haven't you left in between?
There have been periods where I haven't been in the Burritos. But that was But that was the last record we had. We didn't do anymore albums after that.
Uh,Uh, Live from Tokyo?
Yes, that was three years later. I joined them in 1976 and two and a half years later we did that album. That's a long time between two albums but we continued working and we still are. Play a little here, play a little in the States . Just started this year doing that. (1985)
In the meantime you also recorded some solo albums. Working already with some FBB members like Greg and Jim.
These solo projecs are strictly European releases. You won't find them in the States. I got a deal with Appaloosa Italy in 1980 when the Burritos came over. I made the deal with Franco Ratt at that time that the Burriotos recorded Hearts On The Line. I was working on my solo project, Sneaky Pete left shortly after that and the Beland/ Guilbeau era began and it wasn' the Flying Burrito Brothers anymore. So I spent a lot of time in Italy, recording , touring and promoting my record, meanwhile working on the next one. It finally got released last year and is called Don't Go Crazy.
Do you still like being on the road after all these years?
I don't prefer anything above the other. I'm doing what I like to do. I'm farming; I have a farm in Oregon and I'm a full time farmer but when there's roadwork to do, I arrange things at home and hit the road. Both I like both and consider myself lucky to be able to do them both.
Skip, how's America responding to today's countryrock sound. You know what happened in the late seventies?
No demand, not enough audience, not enough recordcompanies interested anymore. The music that is recorded is recorded to sell and recordcompanies don't record music that has only marginal appeal. There are only a few left. We don't have a record deal now. We're doing a live album for fans tonight but that's for people who already know us and there are still a lot of them. But there's not a real big market for us and that's a shame but that is where it ends.
Is there anything you regret, things you should or should not have done over the years. And what's your favorite song self-penned or not?
I really don't know what I regret, nothing really. About favorite songs. I like the songs Dylan did in the sixties, the Byrds songs are great like all their hits: Turn turn turn, Mr Tambourine man, Spaceman, Back Pages, Eight miles high, Rock 'n 'Roll star. Jumping up the modern times I'll buy everything Paul Simon records. He's my ideal about a terrific lyricist, composer and artist. I wish I had his talents. He's wonderful. And Hank Williams, the Beatles, probably a lot more and Merle Haggard.
After this tour you go back to the farm. Is your dream having hits like with the Byrds?
I could use a hit but I really ream of having another album. A really succesful album in Europe because I really care for this part of the world. I care so much for Europe that I would sell the farm and move to Europe with my family and live in Italy, buy me a new farm and have a group with Sneaky Pete in it and tour when we could, Write and perform good music, being able to record and sell it here. Yeah that would really make me happy.
Thanks for your time Skip.
American Music's Skip Battin
Skip and Flip
I've ever seen
Gary S. Paxton,
15 years after
Skip and Flip
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The Byrds: Untitled The Byrds: Farther along The Byrds: Byrdmaniax
Roger McGuinn solo with his famous 12 string Rickenbacker.
The Byrds Reunion album "Full Circle"
Roger McGuinn's first solo project: Thunderbyrd.
New Riders of the Purple Sage: Home, home on the road.
Live album from 1974.
New Riders of the Purple Sage: Brujo.
Skip's first with the New Riders
NRPS: Oh what a mighty time
NRPS first for MCA:
Two NRPS masterpieces: above hte first one, and below: The adventures of Panama Red
left to right:
Jim Goodall (hidden behind):
Greg Harris and Skip Battin
(taken same day
Poster from a cancelled concert
Skip Battin: Navigator Skip Battin: Don' t go crazy
Burrito Brothers: Hearts on the line.
First album of the Beland/Guilbeau era.
Flying Burrito Brothers:
contribution to FBB.
Three live albums
from the mid 80's.
Rare live recording from a Battin/Kleinow/FBB tour in Italy.
(Flying Burrito Brothers)