Dark Star No. 16, August 1978, page 32:

Clover - The Ciambotti Tapes 3

Before we return to our interview, I'm taking a little slice of journalistic (did I spell that right?) licence to quote from the yellowing pages of the April 1973 edition of Let It Rock, which contains an amusing paragraph concerning our heroes on their home ground. Here we go...

'... But the main attraction in Marin - and nowhere else - is a band called Clover. Clover is a true enigma. They have talent, there is no denying that, but they have steadfastly resisted success with an iron will. Every time they play The Lion's Share, they get those teenage honeys droppin' them reds and shakin' their asses off. Armed with one of the best pedal steel guitarist on the West Coast, John McFee, and a credible number of good songs in their repertoire, they still manage to do one of the worst James Brown imitations ever ("Hot Pants" yet!) and close their set with a truly offensive version of "La Bamba". Still, lucrative record contracts with iron-clad guarantees, offers of tours with immensely popular acts, and other such offers of stardom, fame and fortune roll off them like water off a duck's back. They don't care, and I guess that's good, in a way. Marin will always need a good local dance band.'

Hmm... If I could write with the skill and perception managed by the above-quoted Ed Ward, idol of one or two, I would have become a knife-thrower. I'm fairly certain McFee, Ciambotti and the others would contest the bit about 'lucrative record contracts' and...

Temporary Clover line-up during filming of Levi ad. l-r: Huey, Levi girl, Johnny, McFee, Marcus, Sean, Alex. Foreground: Levi girl.

DS: When Nick spoke to Keith Olsen a while back, one interesting piece of Clover scam which came to light was that it was through Olsen that you got into singing "Chain Gang". His recording was the first.

JC: That's exactly right. We were sitting in the studion with him and suddenly he said, 'Hey you guys, warm up your voices.' ...We used to do a lot of accapella singing at parties and stuff. We're forever singing. We had been doing "Chain Gang" for about... at least four years, so everybody had and knew their part as well as could be. A sort of unspoken, unwritten arrangement. So okay... Keith says 'Get warmed up.' We sang the song from beginning to end... very much like the way we are performing it live on stage right now. We did it for about five minutes. Then Olsen - short little fucker - said, 'Okay... now do it again.' We figured we were still warming up - y'know - (imitates Olsen's voice), 'I'm just getting levels in here!' (laughs.) We do it - in fact he made us do it three times. Then he calls us; 'Hey you guys, c'mon in here and listen to this.' It was a triple-track recording of "Chain Gang". He had been rolling the tapes all the time, and... it sounded like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, with balls! Everybody was just so knocked out with it, man, that it became the classic track of the entire tape. There was such a buzz from it. Still is.

DS: "Love On The Wire" has been out of your system for a while now; how do you feel about it now? You've altered your direction since the last album by more than a fraction. It sounds a lot louder for example.

JC: We approached it from a totally different standpoint; a much more energetic and immediate outlook.

DS: Sounds like an album you can bring to a party and play all night.

JC: Yeah... we just went out and did the album as a concept - a travelling, band on the road concept - all the songs are concerned with travelling, missing your old lady. 'Back in California'... "Travellin' Man" we threw in... that was my idea. It could be our next single.

DS: So how have the albums been doing back home for you?

JC: "Unavailable" (in America retitled "Clover" with a different sleeve design) did quite well. About 180 or something... not a world-beater but at least it got in there. The American cover is a lot better than the English one - I couldn't make that at all - I was very upset over that. "Love On The Wire" is a lot better, especially as I took the back cover picture (grins). A better album, I think. McFee is just so good on it - Huey too. Hopper gets a couple of solos that are fuckin' great. That solo on "Easy Love" - wow! I get off on that every time, both in performance and when I hear the record. I've listened to this new album a lot more than I did with the last one; it's all very easy to do in person... we can play the entire album any time we choose. It was done very live.

DS: A very good sound, especially with a new drummer.

JC: Micky Shine left the day we started recording...

DS: ... Urg!

JC: ... We let him go - differences in musical direction, that kinda thing. But he's doing okay. So we got Tony Braunagel. Mutt (Lange) knew Tony through work on various sessions in the past. He knew how quick his head was and that he was a rock'n'roller. So... we had a gas; we became very fast friends immediately. It all worked out real well. The combination was there - everybody had a great time... It was a two and a half week party in a recording studio! When I listen to the album it always gives me a good feeling.

DS: I heard a rumour that Tony was actually gonna join Clover, since he enjoyed recording with you and is in fact a native American from Texas.

JC: No... Crawler was happening. They are doing very well back in the States. He's also been with a couple of the quys in that band - the bassist and the keyboard person - for some ten years. But really, we did get on well recording at Rockfield with old buddies and their ladies turning up, getting real drunk and recording punk-rock silliness tunes!

DS: Sounds like a fun environment to say the least.

JC: The thing at Rockfield is that food is prepared for you. We had spent so much money the last time we recoded on food and French cuisine that everybody put on about fourteen pounds. This time we decided that Mark, one of our roadies, would cook; he's good, a former Navy guy. So... every night - the big sitdown dinner. Big long table, lots of wine, lots of food, and dynamite company. Great. Played the engineers at soccer - ha! Black Sabbath, Crawler and Clover versus the Rockfield engineers. Then we'd eat then record 'til five or six in the morning. It was tireless; Mutt is so absolutely tireless - the amount of sleep he requires is so little. He never abuses himself... never drinks, never smokes. A very good guy.

DS: It'd be very easy to blieve that when you're not playing on stage, recording, doing sessions, eating or sleeping, you're all getting more ripped and wasted than even I could possibly imagine!

JC: Well... I'm trying to quit drinking, but it's difficult for me right now. I'm in love with my old lady; she's in Mill Valley and I'm here in London. Okay.. so there are always lots of other chicks around; there are always chicks around Clover. That's a difference between our audience and that of Graham Parker or Commander Cody. A Cody gig is 75% dudes, wheras with Clover it's that percentage chicks. There's a reason for that - we cater to the ladies as that's who we dig for company. But despite that, I'm just so much in love with my woman that... well, why have a hamburger on the road when you can have a steak at home? Even though I'm vegetarian (laughs). Me and McFee are the vegetarians of the band.

DS: So what of the next album and beyond?

JC: It'll be different... Clover as a band is still growing. We'd like to take a little more time. We prefer to do the basics as fast as we can as it's then that the excitement is captured, for everything else to pile onto later. We do our basics in three days and then we think about what we're gonna do vocally, or instrumentation-wise, or mixing-wise. We need time so that we can come out with two or three different mixes with different solos and stuff. But I'm really looking forward to recording the next album as Kevin Wells is such an incredible drummer. How did we get him? We auditioned a whole bunch of cats after we found that Tony Braunagel couldn't join the band - we knew he was tight with Crawler. So as soon as the "Wire" sessions were out of the way and completed we auditioned drummers. Kevin asked for a try after we'd rehearsed with around ten guys already - some quite well-known cats. He was playing with 5000 Volts at the time, and we just got it on from the first couple of seconds, man! Right away. He's got a great attitude, fits in well, likes to hang out in bars and scope out the ladies. Fits in with the whole Clover life-style.

DS: I guess you have to, just to cope with the wild and wicked wonders of life on the road and whatever.

JC: Oh yeah, very definitely, in a family-orientated band like Clover surely is, with a lot of piss-taking going on - a gag here, a laugh there. Clover is more than a musical organisation, it's more like a travelling family circus! Kevin likes to travel - he's already done quite a bit - he wants to check out the States; it just fitted in so well with everybody's plans. And... he's so fuckin' good! He's very openminded towards music - he's still young and he's gonna go far.

DS: Do you wanna do the next album in England?

JC: Sure - I wouldn't mind recording at Rockfield again. I dig the place.

DS: But where would you want to record back home? Wally Heider, CBS San Francisco and Mickey Hart's place in Novato (The Barn) instantly come to mind.

JC: Actually, I'd prefer to use Steve Miller's ranch in Oregon. A good time would almost certainly be had by all! Especially Maurice (Clover's pet name for Alex Call) and Huey who are both excellent fishers of trout. Steve has got these rivers running through his land jam-packed with trout. He's got his studio set-up there - we were thinking about it. We'd like to do it with Mutt again.

DS: Lange is obviously essential to the 'new' Clover which sprang to life on "Unavailable" and evolved with such force on "Love On The Wire"...

JC: Mutt plays a very big part in the arrangements and stuff. He used to be a bass-player and sometimes offers me some very valid suggestions; gets a great tone on every instrument. He's got an incredible set of ears.

DS: Those who have only heard the two Vertigo albums and think there is a stunning difference in the development of Clover really ought to hear "Clover" and "Fourty Niner" - I've always thought that although you'd progressed as musicians, it was really the production that let them down, especially the very first album. What do you think?

JC: Oh man!! Not to mention the actual band changes and growth of musicianship. They had their validity, those Fantasy albums, but Jesus, the production was so rank. Especially on the first one. It'd be a gas just to take those things and remix 'em properly. They sound so goddamn thin. We didn't know anything and Ed Bogas had only done commercials up 'til then... now he's worked himself into a phenomenal producer; a tremendous musician, also. But at the time it was very much the blind leading the blind, y'know - he had so little experience and we had none whatsoever! Everybody grows though. But I really do think it's Fantasy Records fuckin' fault that we didn't do anything with those albums. They are the culprits - I don't mind saying so and I certainly don't mind you printing it! Now Fantasy is cooking like mad, man... Uncle Saul has got "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and a bunch of bands who are doing real good for themselves - things like The Blackbyrds, Country Joe and a load of others. Good shit. It's cool now; a lot of young guys with new ideas doing their best - we just happened at the wrong time (smiles). They wanted us to happen like Creedence.

DS: Seems to me they wanted everyone they signed to happen like Creedence! When we spoke to Stu Cook some time ago, he told us how bad things were with Fantasy - and he was actually in Creedence!

JC: (Laughs.) Yeah. I can believe it. Really. Bill Graham wanted to put Clover on tour - FM Productions - he wanted Fantasy to put up half the bread and Uncle Saul wouldn't do it. An album out and no tour to promote it. Where the fuck is that at? But no hard feelings - I wish them success and even a number one record - just like I hope Vertigo has a number one record, for sure. I think there's no way we can fail really - just on the strength of our music.


Since the interview, Clover have been back in the States gigging and getting new material together. Problems with the record company both here and back home have not prevented them from helping with the re-mixing of portions of "Clover" and "Fourty Niner" for a compilation album due to be released on Fantasy (where else?) in November. The title is not known at this stage. Johnny has also been gigging with Elvis Costello, filling in for his ailing bassist. I have great faith in Clover - a faith only compounded each and every time I play their records, which is often. They are some of the most genuine guys in the universe, and I'm sure it is only a matter of time before they break into the 'big time'. They've been waiting long enough.

David Prockter



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