KJR, O’Day & the Prunes

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In the golden years of Top-40 radio, program directors and music directors at influential radio stations could make or break hit records. In the Pacific Northwest, Channel 95 KJR was one of those radio stations. In late 1966, KJR’s program director, Pat O’Day, was the impetus behind turning “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night),” by The Electric Prunes, into a national hit.

January 6, 1967 KJR survey

The Electric Prunes became so closely identified with the Pacific Northwest that many fans and even rock music writers and historians incorrectly assumed the band originated in Seattle. KJR deejays, who were at the station in late 1966 and early ’67, recall when The Electric Prunes were climbing the Fabulous 50 survey.

“World Famous” Tom Murphy

“World Famous” Tom Murphy said: “That’s a long time ago. I sure remember the group and the record, but I don’t recall all of the specifics.  It was an early psychedelic garage rock record and it got up to #4 on the KJR Fab 50. There was a rumor that The Electric Prunes had received the largest payment, up to that time, for any artist cutting a single on the Reprise label. I don’t know the truth in that, but we played the record in heavy rotation at KJR. The band came to Seattle and performed a big concert in the arena. I am pretty sure that was the same show with Gary and the Hornets (Hi Hi Hazel), a novelty act of three brothers who were 7, 11 and 14 years of age. ‘Billboard Top Pop Singles’ reports that ‘Too Much to Dream’ by The Electric Prunes peaked at #11 nationally and the group came from Seattle. That last part of their summary is wrong. The group got together in Los Angeles, not Seattle. The Electric Prunes next single, and their last radio hit, was ‘Get Me to the World on Time’ released in spring 1967. I liked it ok and it did respectably well, but the record only got to #19 on the KJR chart. Nationally it stalled at #27.”

Jimmy Rabbit (Roger W. Morgan)

When “Too Much To Dream” was all over the radio in Seattle, Jimmy Rabbit (Roger W. Morgan), was at KJR: “I came to KJR from KISN in Portland. I was in Seattle briefly, before moving to Houston and then to KOIL in Omaha. Despite the brevity of my visit, I vividly remember playing ‘Too Much to Dream.” Frankly, I hadn’t realized KJR had broken the record, but it seems quite likely. In those days, Pat O’Day was putting together concerts and dances. We were promoting all those events on KJR. The Electric Prunes/KJR connection might have been as simple as Pat ‘liked’ a new single by a new band. He recognized the ‘hit potential’ and added the record to the playlist. The song broke big and the band showed its appreciation to Pat and the station by performing at our events at bargain prices. That would be great promotion for everybody and a win-win situation. While we are talking, I have an interesting bit of KJR trivia. When I was in Seattle, we played a novelty song called ‘Walter Wart, the Freaky Frog’ and the artist credit was the Thorndike Pickledish Pacifist Choir. Despite that long winded name, the artist was really just one guy. When I left KJR, I was replaced by the voice behind ‘Walter Wart.’ And that was one Robert O. Smith, a master of doing different voices, who became a Seattle legend.”

Pat O’Day

Pat O’Day reminisced about his connection to The Electric Prunes. “Sorry, that is a difficult one to recall other than in generalities. Back in those days, we broke so many records through the power of KJR that I don’t remember all the details specific to the ‘Prunes,’ as I always called them.  It was an unusual record — cutting edge ‘psychedelic’ and some of the special effects had been created in the recording studio. I liked fooling around with the weird intro on my show. I thought the single was good enough to be a hit, otherwise I wouldn’t have put it in rotation at KJR. Breaking a hit is like a chain reaction: When a radio station is a trendsetter, other broadcasters and the trade magazines pay attention. Since KJR in Seattle jumped on the record, other stations followed our lead and ‘Too Much to Dream’ grew into a national hit. My company, Pat O’Day and Associates, brought in the Prunes to play some big shows and concerts in the Northwest. We co-sponsored a giant Trips Festival and light show on Memorial Day in 1967. The headliners were the Prunes and two supergroups of the era, Jefferson Airplane and the Byrds.”

Trips Festival psychedelic poster, Memorial Day 1967. Note: If you can read this poster you might need glasses!

 

Stephen R. Webb (The Hermit)

Puget Sound Media first learned that Pat O’Day and KJR broke The Electric Prunes record from Stephen R. Webb (aka the Hermit) on his weekly syndicated radio show “Stuck in the Psychedelic Era” (visit his site by clicking here). Webb told this editor: “The Electric Prunes biggest hit was ‘I Had Too Much Too Much To Dream (Last Night)’, released in late 1966 but it broke nationally in early 1967. The record, initially released without much promotion from the record label, was championed by Seattle DJ Pat O’Day of KJR radio, and was already popular in that area when it hit the national charts (thus explaining why so many people assumed the band was from Seattle). ‘I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)’ has come to be one of the defining songs of the psychedelic era and was the opening track on both the original Lenny Kaye Nuggets compilation and Rhino’s first Nuggets LP.”

As is typical of most bands with longevity, The Electric Prunes’ lineup changed over time. The musicians present at the “Too Much To Dream” recording session were Jim Lowe (lead vocals, harmonica, guitar and autoharp), Ken Williams (lead guitar), Mark Tulin (bass and organ), James ‘Weasel’ Spagnola (rhythm guitar), and Preston Ritter (drums).

It is not a secret that Pat O’Day and KJR helped The Electric Prunes achieve a national hit. The band has publicly expressed their gratitude. A founding member of the Prunes, the late Mark Tulin, spoke of the “Seattle connection” when he was interviewed by musicologist Craig Morrison in 2001. A portion of that interview is quoted below (or read all of it by clicking here).

December 1967 (L to R) Mark Tulin, Jim Lowe, James “Weasel” Spagnola, Ken Williams. (Left front) Preston Ritter

“Craig Morrison: Mark, You’re a bass player who also plays keyboards: piano and organ.

Mark Tulin: And some guitar.

CM: I remember hearing that the band came from Seattle.

MT: Wrong.

CM: Three guys are from California, one is from Cleveland, and one from Philadelphia. So why Seattle?

MT: The band itself is actually from the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. The reason for Seattle was that our record—“I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)”—broke [first became a hit] in the Northwest, and it seemed for a while that we were the house band for the Pacific Northwest. We were up there a lot and people assumed that’s where we came from.

CM: Nobody lived there, nobody’s from there, nobody recorded there?

MT: Nobody worked for Boeing. Nothing. We’ve seen reports of us being from there. We’ve seen reports of us being from San Francisco. Not true. We were just up in Seattle a lot.

CM: I grew up in that part of the world. I’m from Victoria, and at that time Victoria had no rock radio stations, so we were listening to stations in Vancouver and Seattle. Where did you play in Seattle?

MT: By the time we went up there “Too Much to Dream” was already charting, so we started off playing the Coliseum. It was a big place. Most of the time we’d go up there and do the bigger concerts, and all the time with Pacific Northwest bands like Don and the Goodtimes, Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. We would go up there periodically, do a fair amount of radio with Pat O’Day [the major disc jockey on KJR in Seattle]. We’d tour, a whole northwestern tour, because once you hit Seattle, there’s Spokane and Oregon and all that.

CM: Did you play in Canada?

MT: We played a little in Canada. We never played the West Coast. We always played Toronto, Montreal, and those places.”

Richie Unterberger is an American journalist, who writes about music and travel. He composed liner notes for The Electric Prunes. An excerpt is quoted below, (or read all of the liner notes by clicking here).

“Few rock singles are as simultaneously experimental and commercial as ‘I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night).’ That was obvious right from the opening hook: a slowly swelling, backwards burst of fuzztone tremolo guitar, announcing the record’s arrival like a supersonic bee swooping into your speakers. And few hits jam so many ideas into three minutes. There are those violin-like distorted washes of guitar backing hushed vocals that explode into anguished near-screams; sudden dead-air stops, punctuated by lonely groans suggesting descents through the earth’s crust; and spooky guitar reverb complementing the drifts between blissful dreams and waking nightmares. The backbone of the track, for all its oddness, is a catchy pop-rock melody, which got the disc all the way up to #11 on the national charts in early 1967.”

At Puget Sound Media, if we can resurrect historical moments, we like to take you back to the sounds of an era. We have located, in our archives, two audio cuts that feature Pat O’Day and a cameo appearance by Tom Murphy. Pat spins the Prunes’ record twice during his afternoon show in Nov ’66, when the single was first catching on in Seattle.

Pat O’Day, two Prunes’ spins. Cameo by Tom Murphy. Nov. 1966  (Run time 3:44)

As an explanation, for the musically curious, that famous special effect intro on “Too Much To Dream,” per Jim Lowe of the Prunes, was an accidental discovery: “The oscillating, reversed guitar which opens the song originated on a 1958 Gibson Les Paul guitar with a Bigsby vibrato unit. We were recording on a four-track, and just flipping the tape over and re-recording when we got to the end. They cued up a tape and didn’t hit ‘record,’ and the playback in the studio was way up: ear-shattering vibrating jet guitar. Ken Williams had been shaking his Bigsby wiggle stick with some fuzztone and tremolo at the end of the tape. Played forward it was cool. But played backward it was amazing. I ran into the control room and said, ‘What was that?’ I made Dave cut it off and save it for later.”

Trips Festival ads: Dick Curtis

Previously, Pat O’Day referenced his involvement with Seattle’s version of the Trips Festival. Actually, Seattle had two Trips Festivals in 1967. The first time around the event was heavily promoted, by its counterculture organizers, as a psychedelic hippie magnet. It was held on March 19, ’67 at a small venue, the Eagle’s Hall. The festival ended abruptly, amid controversy, and before the show was over, when City Hall had the Fire Marshall shut it all down.

The second Trips Festival, a partnership between promoters Trips-Lansing and Pat O’Day & Associates, was high profile and a smooth operation that had quite the opposite outcome. This time it was held on Memorial Day 1967 at the giant Seattle Center Arena. The headliners were big national acts, including the Prunes, and several regionally popular bands. The counterculture theme was kept intact with a light show, a fog machine and the appearance of the proverbial “psychedelic pig.” KJR deejay, Dick Curtis, who was closely affiliated with Pat O’Day & Associates, produced the high energy Trips Festival ads that ran around the clock on Seattle radio stations. I have collected three of Dick Curtis’ spots from May 1967. In this historical aircheck, you’ll also hear jocks Pat O’Day and “World Famous” Tom Murphy.

Trips Festival ads, voice of Dick Curtis. Two spots are pre-event, final ad was “day of the show.” Jock appearances first by Pat O’Day and, day of the show, by Tom Murphy (Run time 4:36)

KJR’s promotion of the Memorial Day Trips Festival was a phenomenal success. Peter Blecha, author of “Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock,” while not a fan of Top-40 AM radio, said of the KJR ad blitz: “The Plan worked and 10,000 kids attended a twelve-hour show featuring Don and the Goodtimes, the Emergency Exit, and Crome Syrcus, with headliners Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds and the Electric Prunes — and a light show by Lux Sit & Dance.”

In their hit-making days, The Electric Prunes appeared on a number of TV shows. I personally recall seeing them on Dick Clark’s “Where the Action Is.” On January 7, 1967, they also performed on Clark’s signature show “American Bandstand.” This article “KJR, O’Day and the Prunes” concludes with the band’s appearance on “American Bandstand.” Near the end of the video clip, Clark holds an informative Q & A session with the Prunes.

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Author: Steven Smith

Presently editor and historical writer with Puget Sound Media in Seattle. Former radio broadcaster and radio station owner, 1970-1999. Journalism and speech communications degrees. I enjoy researching articles and online reporting that allows me to meld together words, audio and video. P.S. I appreciate and encourage reader comments and opinions.

8 thoughts on “KJR, O’Day & the Prunes

  1. Jay…in the times I have edited stories with you, I think your memory is quite outstanding. At some point this trivia stuff runs togeher….but your statement is correct…both names involved a joke. In one the name was the punchline to a joke. And in the other the odd name itself was the joke,

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