JOHN BLAKELEY & RON NAGLE
Tan Mantis
(O.I.E. Records)

 

A CD that was long overdue for release—having been recorded just over a couple years ago, and much anticipated for final release by privileged few lucky enough to have heard the unmixed original—Tan Mantis was finally released September 2006 by O.I.E. Records. Guitarist John Blakeley and keyboardist Ron Nagle have been musical pals for decades now. Blakeley co-wrote and played guitar on the classic Endless Summer soundtrack and in the spirit of that 1964 classic, their latest joint collaboration Tan Mantis re-ignites that classic California surf-rock sound with more than a nod to Duane Eddy meets Pat Metheny. Blakeley, not in the best of health these days is still a California guitar legend well worth checking out. Before Pat Metheny probably even heard a surf record, Blakeley was making guitar history out on the coast as a member of The Sandals. Nagle, having worked with numerous West Coast groups in the ‘60s, is also in rare form here, enhancing Blakeley’s well sculpted guitar-centric sounds. Tan Mantis tracks such as “Inuendo” and “Maruca” are up there with some of the best guitar instrumentals ever written. In his interview with 20th Century Guitar magazine, John Blakeley expounds on the guitar dynamic in play on Tan Mantis.

 



mwe3.com presents an interview with
surf-rock guitar legend John Blakeley

{Anyone even remotely familiar with the pitfalls and subsequent ramifications of those pitfalls, will simply tell you that the music business (d’biz) is not for the faint of heart. Growing up in the 1960s, I bought my first record when I was seven. That record was Barry Mann’s ABC-Paramount Records 45RPM “Who Put The Bomp” back in 1961, the year that put JFK and his brother RFK into the White House. I was not a “surf-rock” fan back in the 1960s, although, strangely enough I did buy “Telstar” by the Joe Meek-produced U.K. instro band The Torandos a year or two following that Barry Mann classic during that same ’61-62 era. 20 years later; my introduction to the sounds of The Shadows followed the assassination of John Lennon, thus marking the destruction of The Beatles while equally opening my eyes and ears to Hank B. Marvin's sound of the guitar as the intended instrument, which at the dawn of the 1980s instituted a new era of modern day instrumental music. Now 40 years after my introduction to the Shadows, I’m just sitting here reminiscing while composing an essay about something very personal and I hope it won’t be wrong.

In 2001, I met singer-songwriter Jeff Larson and he told me about the 2001 release of an album called Daytrips that he had just released with guitarist John Blakeley. Blakeley, for anyone that remembers the 1960s, was the guitarist that wrote, recorded and played lead guitar on the theme to The Endless Summer, the movie on the original album by The Sandals. You would think there would have or could have been a part two back then but soon after, by the time of the rock movement of the later 1960s, Blakeley turned up again as a co-founding member, with singer Sal Valentino, in the SF hippie band Stoneground who released albums on the Warner Bros Records label.

All of this being a rough outline about a true West Coast guitar hero. So back to when I met Jeff in 2001 and he told me about the album, I summarily went on to feature it in 20th Century Guitar magazine around that same Summer of 2001 period. Interestingly, during the 1990s and simultaneously the early / mid 2000s, John did also reunite with the Sandals for a series of great albums which I had the pleasure to review in 20th century guitar magazine and on mwe3.com - I think it might have been through Jeff but somehow I connected, in 2004, with John Blakeley again and he told about a new album he was making with musician and artist Ron Nagle. So John sent me an early version of Tan Mantis on CDR. Right away, I was captivated by the music that he and Ron were making. Over the next two to three years, I listened and watched Tan Mantis take shape. And John kept mailing me the CDR’s annotating a different version on multiple discs. I must have at last six versions in my archives. The last one I got from him said “Almost The Master”. Such is the essence of true guitar genius. I was talking to John by phone regularly over 2004 and into 2005 and somehow Golly Gee Records founder Mel Spinella and I planned to work and arrange a Golly Gee release. As I remember 2005 was a tragic year for me. A terrible divorce was swiftly followed by my Father’s sudden death following hurricane Wilma in October 2005 in Florida. Somehow that deal with Mel fell through but around early 2006, I began trying to interest record label impresario John McGlasson, founder of O.I.E. Records. John McGlasson, who had a roster of gifted artists, including avant-garde rockers Von Frickle, liked the album right away and wanted me to become the Executive Coordinator of what turned out to be the first ever, and seemingly last Tan Mantis release on CD.

I followed what was going on with John as he finished Tan Mantis, together with Ron Nagle. So,remembering, then I returned to NYC nine months later, in July 2006, I became the caregiver for my by then invalid mother and I had a new wife and we cared for her till her end in late 2009. So back to the story. John McGlasson loved the album and I wrote liner notes and I saw it for sale, just a couple days ago, on Ron Nagle's web store. The sad part is the conclusion to my involvement in Tan Mantis. I had a huge blow up with John McGlasson over money that was due to me for my work in securing the album, purchased ad space and writing CD liner notes. I can only attribute my reaction to the overbearing stress I was putting myself through. This at the same time, I was doing all my work as an editor with TCG mag and keeping up with the role of webmaster of mwe3.com Sadly, I guess I turned John Blakeley off with my tirades against McGlasson because it seems he was reluctant to speak with me again. I am truly sorry for the way I behaved during this tragic episode and this includes any disrespectful foul language and accusations I used against O.I.E. and its owner. I regret it now but seemingly everyone even remotely involved in this epic saga is gone now. As discussed in the article that John Blakeley was already ill having gone throught multiple heart transplants... So I don’t know if he is even still alive or not. And O.I.E. is gone and McGlasson nowhere to be found. Even so, I want to extend another thank you again to John Blakeley, Ron Nagel, Jeff Larson, John McGlasson and Mel Spinella. You are all very good people and thank you for being receptive of my input and my ideas. I’m sure there’s more I am missing but good luck trying to find it Now, although I remember and looking back 15 years, I think I still should be very proud of my involvement in what became the 2007 CD release of Tan Mantis and also for my brief friendship and time I spent with John Blakeley. Editor – July 2021}

 

TCG: Robert S Silverstein
JB: John Blakeley

TCG: Tan Mantis sounds great. What are you and Ron hoping listeners will get out of this album?

JB: Well "getting it" would be enough. Enjoying it would be great. Many different layers of meaning.

TCG: You made the record with Ron Nagle, whom you have known for years. How did you meet Ron and how would you describe the chemistry between you two guys?

JB: I met Ron when I moved from Southern California to San Francisco. He was pounding on an upright piano during a rehearsal with the sustain pedal on full. As I walked into my friend's house, the first thing I noticed about him was the "heavy vibe" of an artist, someone with authentic talent. I soon discovered his passion for writing songs, especially lyrics. He had a wonderful sense of dry humor and we hit it off like pea in pod. He asked me to help him work on an album he was recording called Bad Rice. I obliged. He took me under his wing and showed me a lot of sense and sensibility...mostly attitude. He aspired to make records like the greats and made a very distinct difference between and recording and a record—a recording is a diary and a Record is art. He aspired to make great records in the tradition of Doo Wop, R&B, Rock N' Roll etc. with his own personal style. We have always kept in touch and have been working on something or other.

TCG: There’s so many great instrumentals on Tan Mantis so, could you say something about the song “Maruca” and which guitars featured on it?
 
JB: Well, I wrote that song about a friend of mine who died in a car accident years ago. The cops that night were chasing a thief in a car who had stolen a six dollar bottle of wine, down the main street in town. My friend was sitting on the shotgun side of a VW van and got slammed by this asshole and his bottle of six bucks, trying to get away from the man. I guess the song reflects the sadness I felt at his loss. He was a great buddy and the drummer in my band called The Sandals. He was soft spoken with a wicked sense of humor. It's a shame he's not around anymore. I miss him. “Maruca” is for him.

TCG: How about “Inuendo”?

JB: On that song I wanted to have three stacked Strats on the chorus doing different voicings. It was a little bit of a trick pulling up the vibrato tail piece at just the right speed so they all matched. Basically it was written as a kind of mambo piece, and I love the Latin feel to it. Lots of earlier instrumentals in the 60's had the Latin thing goin' on. The song is a nod to that and it also shows off Ron's good writing sensibilities.

TCG: “Pearls Of Wisdom” is a classic guitar melody. How about that track?
 
JB: Nagle came to me with that one and asked me to write a bridge to it. I was delighted. As far as the sound of the guitar, it's pretty obvious salute to Duane Eddy, my first mentor. I still love all those low melodies he played. Ron and I really got into this one. There's even some Hitchcock-y elements to the song. We wanted to create a spooky mysterious vibe and I think we arrived. Plus it has the ‘Connery’ feel. Most of these songs were written to be in movies or movie soundtracks. So, that's one reason to have all the visual connotations, besides just being good writing. It's the ideas that count. The "doing" counts too but that's second.

TCG: What guitars and amps featured on the album?
 
JB: For the most part, an '84 Strat Plus is featured as the lead instrument on this album with the exception of “Caballero” which is a '59 Gibson 330. Then I guess there's my usual Collings acoustic, the Collings Baby hi-strung, Rickenbacker lap steel, Ransom 6-string bass, etc. I was trying to achieve that gosh darn "signature" sound for the most part, but we were always doubling and tripling parts so we could get greater texture. As far as the amps go, I only own two: A 1971 Fender champ which uses an eight inch speaker from another cabinet, and a retro 2 x 10" Fender for the six-string bass.
 
TCG: Any other future recording plans with Ron?

JB: Ron and I are working on an album to be included in a book about his life's work. He is a magnificent and well-known ceramist and well as a great writer. So the CD will reflect his favorite songs he's written through the years. And it's damn good.

TCG: Describe working with Sal Valentino on the album you made with him, Dreaming Man... What a singing legend he is.
 
JB: One morning when we worked on “Lookin' For You,” I was to be found in my pajamas setting up mics on prednisone (from the heart transplant). I'd set up a click track, get myself and Sal set up and away we'd go. Just the two of us. 10:00 in the morning. We started several songs like that (not always with the pred though.) Those were always the best performances, when it was just the two of us. Later I would do the rest when Sal was in Sacramento. As far as him being a legend, I can't comment on that. What I can tell you is that he is a soulful singer who knows how to reach to the depths and pull out essence. He's unique, individual and there ain't a nobody else like him. A singer's singer if you will.

TCG: Can you say something about your studio and how you get such a great sound on your records?

JB: The first thing is to have a sense of what music (or art) is: aesthetic arrest. (Joseph Campbell). If you don't have that—the sound between the notes—then where do you look for greatness? Nothing tells me what a great sound is. It comes out of the ether. I do however, devote any and everything I have into creating that magic. A lot of the time, it's just there right in front of my face. Other times I work and work....la dee da...and then.....bang! Out of nowhere. That IS where it comes from. You also have to know what you're going for and how to get there. The digital world dictates that you get as much of the sound you need upfront. Hard to "fix in the mix". Lots of times I would have to backup and redo stuff because the parts were right, but the sound wasn't. It also helps to have an old tube preamp like the V72 and some wonderful limiter/compressors before you go to the computer. My V72 and a couple of black-face LA-4’s are about 80% of it. Without those two guys...flat on your derriere.

TCG: Let’s hope for the best as we roar into 007.

JB: Well, I'm still roaring into 006 and counting. But 007 will be a great year. With the music or a new heart or both. To sum it up as (Mr.) Spock once said "I'm so ashamed Jim. I've eaten of the flesh and enjoyed it."

Thanks to John Blakeley, Ron Nagle and O.I.E. Records @ www.oierecordsltd.com

 

 




 

 
   
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