Jim Valley is a survivor, having tasted fame as a member of the two hottest bands in the history of Northwest Rock & Roll: Paul Revere & the Raiders and Don & the Goodtimes. The Pacific Northwest bred such luminary groups as the Sonics, Wailers, Ian Whitcomb and the Kingsmen. The competition was fierce and many of these bands reached the national charts more than once. But time can be a cruel mistress and our heroes are no longer rock & roll stars; the sheen has faded and some of our finest music is being forgotten. The play lists for oldies radio doesn’t run very deep and our favorite music is being sold on television, not so much in record stores.
Jim Valley is a true survivor. In 1967 he was known as Harpo, singer and guitarist for Paul Revere & the Raiders. The band had an international following even though they never toured overseas. He was named after one of the Marx Brothers and he wore the mantel well. Though Valley played pop music for a living, he was an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, learning his chops on the clarinet, trombone, guitar and trumpet. He possesses an incredible vocal range and his rich tenor is clear and pure. He was always a great singer, even as a kid when he would sing Elvis, Frankie Lymon, Little Richard and Bill Haley.
Valley is a Zen Archer drawing his bow and sending a message universal love. He spent some time looking into the abyss but he never succumbed to that dark side of life. Instead he found a middle path, a safe haven where love and peace were nourished. He released several albums including an under-appreciated masterpiece entitled Dance Inside Your Heart as well as a children’s opus called Rainbow Garden.
To Valley everything is sacred and nothing is serious, no wonder his nickname of Harpo would resonate so clearly to his many fans. The following is an interview with a reluctant icon, a man who won the hearts and minds of teenagers, adults and children across the globe…because he was real.
When did you discover an interest in rock & roll?
Very early, we would do these happy dance contests, and I’d win them once in a while on the local TV show. It was called “the Rock and Roll Jacket.” This was 1955, maybe ’56. In the ninth grade I was playing jazz trumpet like the Glenn Miller Band. We would play intermissions for square dances. When we got into junior high school, we had arrived just as rock and roll arrived. We went to all these dances and at the end of the year the Frantics, a high school band were invited to perform. It was the first rock and roll group I ever seen in my life.
I bought a guitar in my sophomore year. It was a turquoise blue Danelectro, and I played left-handed. Years later I saw Jimi Hendrix on the cover of Rolling Stone and he had the same turquoise blue coloring! I loved my Danelectro guitar but within six months I bought a 1959 Fender Stratocaster. I wish I would still have my Raider’s guitar. It was a kid-sized 335 TD, but in those days you just kind of traded in or you traded up. So if somebody could have said to me, “Don’t trade this guitar in. Put it in a case and keep it. Keep it for 30 years, and it will be worth $15,000,” which is what they are worth now, I would still have it.
At the end of 9th grade there were three girls in my choir who were writing songs and playing four chords like in “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” These girls taught me to play these four chords and I wrote this song about one of them. My next-door neighbor thought it was a great song so we decided to record it. So we got a guy who had a set of drums and a saxophone player and a guitarist and we started a band - it was just something to do. I played the piano. We did about three songs.
My first big band was The Viceroys. By the end of my sophomore year, we were playing teen dances. We played our first dance for $60, and by the time we were seniors in high school, we were a union band and we performed at PTA dances and social club dances. We also played for high school sororities and fraternities.
I graduated in ’61 and I was trying to get us a job at the World’s Fair. There was nothing for teenagers to do. At one point I found out they were bringing in an ocean liner from Liverpool England called the Dominion Monarch. It was going to be scrapped in Japan after the fair, but it was used as a floating hotel. A local TV station had televised three programs, one for the kids’ program, a news program, and then a program they called Duck Dance. It was onboard the ship every afternoon for a half-hour, and we’d play for an hour. We got this job without an audition. We even had the spunk to perform an original song called “Granny’s Pad” and it became big, we even recorded it. It got played on the air, and it got to number two or three in the Northwest charts. It lifted us up about three notches so we were playing for radio-sponsored dances. Instead of $100, we got $300 and $400 a night.
At one time we played a club in Seaside, Oregon called the Piper Club. We were supposed to have 800 kids, and we went there for a small guarantee against a percentage of the door. Instead we had only 80 kids. We found out there was a new band out of Portland. They wore three-cornered hats and they’re wild and crazy, and the kids loved them. They were throwing their own dances up at Cannon Beach (which was a beach up in Seaside). They had 1200 kids there that night. It was Paul Revere and the Raiders.
So I said to Paul Revere, “If you ever need a guitar player, let me know.” You know, just kidding. The Raiders worked it out for us. Things were changing and I was going to college. I got turned onto an inward path, and decided to leave the Viceroys. After I made that step I happened to see this band at another famous dance hall and they were advertised as “wilder and crazier than Paul Revere and the Raiders.” It was Don and the Good Times. That was my coming out. I went up to see them. Don McKinney was like a Mick Jagger. They we’re looking for a guitar player that could also sing.
I couldn’t sleep at all that night. I woke up in the morning and decided to join the Goodtimes.” I joined them, grew my hair long, and I wrote a song for them called “Little Sally Tease” and it became a big hit.
And we became a big hit. We used to play Battle of the Bands with the Raiders, and sometimes we’d win.
You were in the classic line-up of the Good Times, Did you get paid well?
Yes, actually I made more money with Don and the Good Times than I made with Paul Revere and the Raiders. Don and the Good Times made like $500, $600, $700, $800, sometimes $1,200 a night because we would draw big crowds. After a few months, they made me the leader, so they gave me an extra 10 percent for taking on that role. I made a lot of money, and it was really hard for me to leave that group. It wasn’t that I’m going to be in Paul Revere and the Raiders now. Don and the Good Times were signed to Dunhill Records. Lou Adler was the main producer for Dunhill. Somehow our record guy got to them, and they said, “Okay, we’ll sign up Don and the Good Times.” So it was interesting that we were in LA recording at Western Studios with Steve Barri producing us. We recorded a song called “Sweets for My Sweet.”
And later on … it lost all of its pizzazz. As we were finishing it, somebody came in and asked about the Mamas and Papas tapes. That was the first time I’d ever heard that name. Someone said, “Who cares about the Mamas and the Papas, we got Don and the Good Times.” Well, a week or two week later “California Dreamin’” came out and we were relegated to a little bar band.
At that point, Paul Revere has a meeting with me up in his car in front of that motel we’re staying at, and he made this proposition. He wanted me to take Drake Levin’s place in the Raiders “You’ll make x amount of dollars. We’re going to go to Europe. There’s a movie coming.” He wants to do a movie with us. I said, “You know I love the Raiders, but Don and the Good Times, we’re this close to making it.” He gives me the wise old uncle look, and he goes, “There are so many groups that are that close, and we have already crossed that line. So I talked the Goodtimes, and they all said, “We think you should do it.” It was early 1966.
When that happened, Paul and I we had a sit down, “Okay, this is what’s going to come down and this is what I think you should do. I think you should take a sabbatical from the Raiders for 40 days, and we’ll take you on a 40-day tour, and if the band likes you after 40 days, then we’ll keep you for six months. If after six months the fans relate to you better than they did to Drake, then you’re in.
When you joined the band, it really made a difference in the performances.
I stayed with the Raiders for basically a year. There was a thing, you know, where we weren’t supposed to smoke pot! When I joined Revere brought the subject up, “Well, nobody smokes pot.” But the reality was that Drake was a head, I was a head, but Revere said, “You need to promise me this.” I said, “Okay” because I thought it wasn’t that big a deal, and that I could do this.
But the day that I joined, the day that I flew to LA, I picked up my stuff and lived with Mark Lindsay for a week or so, and the day that I get there at Lindsay’s apartment, there’s a phone call and they said, “This is for you.” So I talked to this girl who said, “Hold on, Drake wants to say hello.” So Drake was at her house, and he said, “So Jim, just tell Mark that you’re coming to see an old girlfriend.” So I walked up the street and there’s Drake and we go into some house, and there were five people there. We were sitting down there, and Drake brings out a baggie and rolls a doobie and hands it to me.
I said, “Drake, I promised I wouldn’t do this.” He said, “Oh, we all promised. You just have to be cool. It’s just a game we play, and it’s not a big deal.” Smitty, Phil and I would get high on tour but only after the concert. We’d go up in our rooms and put a towel by the door and have a few tokes, play guitars, and you know, tell jokes or whatever. Mark was a smoker and it was cool. Revere took pills and drank. He was truly a funny man. He was the reason on stage we could all be who we were.
I was like the Ringo Starr of Paul Revere and the Raiders. When Ringo joined the Beatles, they became a complete unit. And they all matched each other. When I joined the Raiders, the same thing happened to the Raiders.
Paul never recorded at Columbia when I was there. He just wasn’t interested in the studio. Van Dyke Parks played keyboard on several of the songs. Hal Blaine came in and played some of the drums. Melcher and Mark did the high harmonies and I did some harmonies. Terry remembered there were two songs that I had written and he thought we’d record one of them for the Spirit of ’67 album. One was called “Try, Try, Try” and the other was called “There Is Love.”
After I left the Raiders, I became associated with a guy named Curt Boettcher, who produced the Association and Tommy Roe, and he influenced John Phillips. He was a real genius. I met his lead singer. Her name was Michelle O’Malley. She took me to Curt, and I lived there for about a month. She loved my songs. I was still legally under contract to Columbia. Curt went in, and we recorded three songs. We recorded “Try,” “There is Love,” and a song called “Now.” I played and sang on all of the songs. It was very organic. I thought it sounded really good.
Jerry Scheff was our bass player and the musical coordinator. We recorded these three songs and then I went through a dark mind of the soul for a while and wasn’t quite sure of my head and couldn’t really make a cohesive decision. At one point when I’d signed with Dunhill as a solo artist, Jay Lasker brought me in one day with Curt Boettcher, his executive producer. We played “Try, Try, Try.” Jay said we’ll use the Wrecking Crew. So he got Larry Knechtel and Hal Blaine doing the backups. He said the background music needed to be a little stronger and, asked, What do you think, Jim?”
I said, “I don’t know.” Jay stopped right there and said, “Okay, we’re going to go with the Mamas and the Papas.” Curt left and they were miffed because it would have been a good thing to have. I never heard those songs again.
The interesting thing when we talk about history not being captured, the Raiders show when I was with them that year in 1967 was amazing. We could do no wrong. We were just five people. We didn’t have monitors for most of that. We were an incredible, exciting group. Our performances were never videotaped. Dick Clark could’ve done that. If they would’ve filmed the entire performance and showed the excitement of the audience we would have gained more respect as a touring band.
The Raiders took that live, exciting, charismatic performance to another level. So as time went on, we got more hits and in one year they became one of the biggest groups in the US. We even surpassed the Beach Boys as performers.
There was nobody to even compare us to. A typical set list included: You Can’t Sit Down, Louie Louie, Steppin’ Out, Big Boy Pete, Just Like Me, Ups & Downs, Good Thing, Hungry, Kicks, Little Girl in the 4th Row.
As more of those new hits came out, we would stop playing some of the generic hits. “Big Boy Pete” by the Olympics was one of those things that they had done since before Drake was with them. We did the thing where we swung guitars at each other. A big Raider’s fan at the time called it “ The Harpo Year.”
When I was getting ready to leave the band Derek Taylor said, “You receive twice as much fan mail as the rest of ‘em put together. You come across in your photos and you come across in your action as real.”
Paul has the loudest voice at band meetings, when he gets mad it’s, “shut the eff up, everyone go have lunch by themselves. Come back in an hour. We’re going to have a band meeting.”
So we do and came back in an hour. That’s when he makes these things up. “Okay, we’re each going to make $100,000 this year if we can keep it together. First of all, I want everyone to promise again that no more marijuana.”
So we said, “Mark, what about you?” Mark replies, “Yeah, I’ll cut it out. It’s not for me.” Then Paul asks, “How about you, Harpo?” I said, “You know, Paul, I use it. I don’t go runnin’ around the neighborhood naked. I’m not out there with a gun.” I said, “As for me, if you need to find someone that doesn’t use it, then I think you should go ahead and do that”
Smitty said “Oh, let’s not talk about this right now”… because he knew that if I left, it wouldn’t be a good thing. Paul came to me a couple of weeks later and said, “Have you thought about it?” I said, “Yeah, I’ve thought about it.” He said, “If you can’t abide by the rules of the band, then we’re going to find somebody new.” I said, “I think that’s what you should do.”
There was a song that Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote especially for us, that we recorded during the Spirit of ’67 sessions. It was called “Long Way To Go.” It would’ve been something like the Beatles on “Rubber Soul. We’re taking the band with this one song to a different level. It wouldn’t have just been teeny-bopper. I have a copy of the original acetate that Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote for us. I think its Mann singing. It was amazing. Hal Blaine played on it, everything was recorded, the background vocals instruments, and then Mark would do his vocals, but somehow he couldn’t hold those note.
Suddenly Terry Melcher started hearing things out of tune on the track and he had kind of a nervous breakdown. He junked it. The next day we went on tour, and they released “Great Airplane Strike,” which was a cool song.
Roger Hart was our manager. He said Paul’s instructions were to make as much money as you can and book us in as many towns as you can. We played for thousands of fans and it was just an amazing uproar and an amazing stage show. We could’ve turned rock and rock history around. Paul Revere & the Raiders might have been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.