As a perfect follow-up to the interview with HOWARD "SPEEDY" GARFIN, the creator of "THE GARFIN GATHERING", we made an interview with ED JOHNSON, the original keyboardist of the band. Ed was part of the original formation of "THE GARFIN GATHERING" and he was later replaced by Wayne Yeager on the Pines Hotel, South Fallsburg, NY. Ed left the band to form his own group which appeared back to back in the same lounge with the Garfin Gathering!
Q: Can you tell us about your musical background? Did you always want to be a musician?
A: “Well, I started playing keyboards (piano/organ) when I was six hears old, and that was my primary instrument. I came from a family of music majors, I had two other brothers, one 4 years older and one 10 years younger than I was, and we were all music majors. We grew up in Centrailia Washington, halfway between Seattle and Portland. I was also a rollerskater, and did dance and figure skating stuff, so I was a performer since I was 6. And I raced motorcycles when I was 19 and was third in the US in motorcycle racing until I turned 26 and decided that I might get killed and that’s when I went into music.”
Q: Was the “Garfin Gathering” the first band you belonged to?
A: “Oh no, I had been in several bands by the time I ran into Speedy Garfin. I had traveled all over the country, I went into music in my mid-20’s as professionally was concerned, and had my own show groups usually throughout Reno, Tahoe, Las Vegas and that area and it was in San Jose California when I met Speedy.”
Q: Did you have your own band, and if so, what was its name?
A: “Yes I did, and we went through several over the years, whatever happened to be selling at the particular time. My first band was called “The Modern Men,” that was back in the modern jazz quartet days, and it was kind of a jazz group, and we decided that playing jazz we’d starve to death.”
Q: Was jazz your favorite music style?
A: “Yes, it was my favorite music at the time, and it was a kind of the direction I was leaning. My older brother was into big band, Stan Kenton and that kind of thing, and I was into jazz combos, mainly because at that time all my piano playing heroes at that time were jazz, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson.”
Q: When you met Speedy, were you still with your own band?
A: “Yes, I had my own band in San Jose. The Garfin Gathering didn’t exist yet, and, oh boy, you’re going back into the memory here. Well, a friend of mine was playing with a group called “The Upstarts” which was a musical comedy show group in the Sahara at Lake Tahoe and Speedy was looking for a keyboard player. He talked to my friend who was a guitar player in “The Upstarts” and he said “well, the best keyboard player is in a sit-down gig in San Jose. I don’t know if you can convince him to go on the road or not.” Next thing I know I get a call from Speedy, and he wants to fly me in from San Jose to Lake Tahoe to talk to me, and audition. I did some checking on who Speedy Garfin was, and he was well-known and well-liked, a pillar of society as far as Nevada lounges were concerned, and for the past 7 years they had toured Reno and Tahoe, Las Vegas and I think one trip into Spokane Washington a year. My parents were in Seattle, and I really didn’t want to go on the road, and that was close enough to San Jose, and I’d be within 2 hours of home.”
Q: When did you join the “Garfin Gathering,” and who were the members? A: “Let’s see, it was March or April, 1971 when the group was formed, and the members were Lynda Carter, Speedy Garfin, myself and Dennis Bush. He was the original drummer.” Q: Did you meet Lynda when she was with the “Garfin Gathering,” or when she was with another band? A: “Actually the first time I met Lynda was in my garage in San Jose for our first rehearsal.” Q: When the band debuted, what can you recall about it, and were then any problems? Was Lynda the lead singer? A: “Well, she was primarily the star of the show, that was what she was hired to do. As I said, I did some research on Speedy because I really didn’t want to go on a road tour, I didn’t want to wind up in Europe or someplace like that as they eventually did. But the girl singer that had been with him was doing 40’s style music and was quite a bit older and was more jazz oriented. Speedy had a very successful group for over 7 years without a change in the personnel prior to the “Garfin Gathering.” Lynda was just 19, so she kind of came into a role that was, that she was inexperienced for, to tell you the truth, so the material he was using was not ideally suited for her, but was more jazzy and older style, it was not contemporary at all. It took some time for Lynda to introduce some of her own style of material to the group as it also did to introduce some of mine. We were more contemporary that Speedy had been in the past but it was difficult to argue with Speedy’s success. We managed to overcome the objective and the group began to take on a distinct personality of it’s own.” Q: What music style was she comfortable with? A: “She was more comfortable with contemporary, what was contemporary at that time. ” Q: Where was your first performance? A: “It was at the “Eight Immortals Lounge” at the new Holiday Inn in or near San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was a beautiful hotel, with luxurious accommodations, and a beautiful showroom/lounge. It was a brand new hotel with only one problem! It had no sidewalks yet so there was no way to get into the hotel unless you were a guest of the hotel and parked in the underground parking lot. And once you were in it you couldn’t get out of it, to walk the Chinatown streets, you had to take your car and park someplace and walk. Being a totally new hotel, there were very few guests due to the lack of access to the streets to go anywhere outside of the hotel. We did our three shows per night, mostly to the help and a small scattering of guests that were trapped in the hotel, to use that kind of terminology, regardless of the empty room. It was kind of an interesting opening, to say the least.” Q: It must have been very depressing to all of you, especially for your first gig. A: “Well, we were anticipating an opening someplace in a show lounge like The Sahara In Lake Tahoe that was packed full of people that we could impress, but it wasn’t like that at all. Altogether it was probably a good thing for us, because we hadn’t performed before, so it was more of a paid rehearsal. All of the rehearsals we had done were in my garage in San Jose, because I had to give notice with the band I was working with, so I was rehearsing all day with Speedy, playing all night. One little side note, I played Hammond Organ, which was the instrument of the day as far as keyboards go. It could behave like a complete orchestra by itself, and I was building one that was collapsible that could fit into a station wagon. We had an old piano that I had borrowed from the club that I was working in, that’s what we rehearsed on, and they all stood around looking at the pieces of this organ, wondering if I was ever going to put it back together again. But it worked it fin in the station wagon and was successful and served us very well for many years. In fact it’s still floating around here in Florida.” Q: What was Lynda’s reaction to playing to a sparse crowd? Was she upset? A: “I don’t ever remember Lynda whimpering, crying or being upset about anything. Other things I remember was that Lynda was the only girl on the road with three guys! During the day, she was just one of the boys and a fun person most of the time. When it came “show time” she suddenly transformed into this statuesque beauty that was all professional, no matter how small or dismal the venue happened to be at the time. The most amazing thing I remember from those days is that Speedy referred to her as “Wonder Woman” long before her role as Wonder Woman became a reality.” Q: Was she always pleasant to be with on tour? A: “Well, she and I did not get along all that well together. It was the age difference, you know, she was 19 and I was 33. Dennis, the drummer, and her chummed around more together than she and I did. The only disagreement Lynda and I had was
not between Lynda and I, but with the music selection. She didn’t have what I thought was the feel for the older style music, I felt that she would be more comfortable with newer material, and that was more of a disagreement between Speedy and myself, than it was Lynda, and myself. I had a little problem with her phrasing of the older style music, and that was the only thing that I can remember having any disagreements with. The only other area of dissention was that I made more money than she did. That was a problem for her. The main reason for that was that I was doing 2 jobs. With the Hammond Organ in those days the Union required that if you were playing base lines and chord lines at the same time, you didn’t get double time, but you got time and a half just for doing those 2 jobs at the same time. It was kind of a special situation, plus I had a lot of equipment to carry around. The only dissention I had at all in that regard was when we left San Francisco, we went to Memphis, and I and Speedy and Dennis all drove cars carrying equipment. Lynda flew in, so she bypassed a snowstorm in North Platte Nebraska that we all kind of struggled through. Speedy had bought a new car, and had grown up in Queens, NY, and had never owned a car before. So his first car and his first incursion was cross country to Memphis in a snowstorm. He had never driven before.”
Q: How did he do?
A: “I remember one spot where we were driving down a four lane highway with snow just pouring, coming down and all of sudden Speedy changes lanes, goes down through the culvert, across into the oncoming lane of traffic, through the oncoming lane of traffic, up the side culvert on the other side of the freeway, back down, back into the oncoming lane of traffic, through the culvert in the middle of the road again, and back up in lane of traffic where he was supposed to be, and never touched a soul!”
Q: Did he fall asleep?
A: “No, he just temporarily lost control of the car for a minute. He had never driven that much, plus driven in snow, he was just inexperienced. Dennis and I were in cars behind him watching in wonderment.”
Q: Was his wife with him then?
A: “No, he was alone. We were all caravaning along in three cars.”
Q: Did Lynda ride with anybody, or did she fly most of the times?
A: “That was the way it was most of the time when we had long trips; she’d usually fly rather than drive if there was a long space in between. Other times she rode with Dennis or Speedy. She never rode with me, as there was no room in the station wagon with all the equipment.”
Q: Do you recall any particular song that she used to like to sing during each show?
A: “I was trying to think of the song, the first song that we had introduced. Most of the stuff Speedy had was written out arrangements and medly’s, keeping in mind that this was a show group, so each show, and in those days a show consisted, in the Reno Tahoe Vegas lounge act Business, you had show one, you did 55 minutes shows, you had show one, you had show two and you had show three. Both show one and show two were entirely different, show three was usually a composite of show one and two. Does that make sense?"
Q: Did you do just evening shows, or daytime shows too?
A: “Well, it depended on the lounge. A normal show band did three shows a night, that was a normal venue for a show group, depending where you were. With my own band in Harrah’s in Reno, they had 4 groups, so your first show might be 8:00 in the evening, and then three hours later, after three other bands, you’d go out and do the second show at midnight, and then your third show at 4:00 in the morning. So it could get strung out, but we never ever got into that type of venue with the “Garfin Gathering.”
Q: What kinds of places did you play?
A: “Primarily we were a show group, so we didn’t play any dance, the only time I can ever remember doing anything danceable at all was in the San Francisco opening in Chinatown. I think we did a dinner set, with non-show material, and just some dance music, but after that it was pretty much show oriented. You came on and the show consisted of features from everybody, and Speedy’s comedy act, and feature songs from Lynda, that type of thing, but it was pretty much show oriented. The places we played were, let’s see, Memphis was the Rivermont Hotel and we were just a show group that night, we did I think two shows a night, maybe three, at the top of the hotel and people just came in to see the show. But they did have dinner, that was the type of venue that was, and from there we went on a tour of “Scott’s Inns” through Ohio, Lima, Piqua Ohio on our way to the Catskills, and those were dinner clubs, and we’d do a dinner show and our regular shows after that, sometimes two shows a night, sometimes three. They were more supper club type things. And when we got to the Catskills, we played a show lounge. They had the main room and it was set up like Las Vegas like the old days.”
Q: I remember you said earlier that you didn’t want to do much touring. How did you feel about all this traveling on the road?
A: “ Well, I had been doing this for quite sometime, and I had mixed emotions of it. When I went with Speedy, like I said I didn’t really want to go on the road, and I didn’t want another road gig, because I spent quite a few years doing that, and although I enjoyed the show aspect of it, because people were there to be entertained, rather than just playing in a bar someplace where you had beer bottles thrown at you, it was a type of thing where people came and you did a performance and they applauded it, and you were entertaining. That part I enjoyed. The part that was not enjoyable was moving the equipment, and it didn’t matter of you’re playing in Caesars’ Palace or a supperclub, it didn’t matter if you left the Palace and you threw a pair of dirty socks in with your tuxedo, come show time you pulled that tuxedo out of the case which had that same pair of dirty socks in it and sometimes your lapels smelled like a foot!”
Q: Were you still with the group when Lynda left in 1972?
A: “Well actually I left the group before Lynda. I was only with the group until we got to the Catskills, and during the Catskills, like I said, I didn’t want to go on the road, and he couldn’t find a replacement for me until we got to NY, and when he did finally find a replacement, Wayne Yeager went with him from Cincinatti. When I left the “Garfin Gathering,” Jerry Brown, the owner of the hotel wanted to know where I was going. My younger brother wanted to go into the business at that time, so I was going back to San Francisco to form a group with my younger brother. Let me digress a bit: Speedy and I always had this ongoing friction, contemporary against older style music. I wanted to do more contemporary music, and I thought Lynda would be more comfortable and a better performer if she was doing more contemporary, and he maintained that this wouldn’t sell in the Catskills, so that was another reason that I was leaving the group. So as a result, when I did leave the group, the owner of the hotel asked me where I was going, and asked me to stay and form a group there.”
Q: What did you think about that?
A: “Well, I said first of all I don’t have any money, and I got two kids just coming out of college, my brother and another who have never played this kind of venue, and so the owner said I’ll pay their way out here, and I’ll pay you for two weeks just to rehearse, and then we’ll put you in the lounge, because I like the kind of stuff you’re doing, I want you to do more contemporary stuff. So he did and we did, and next thing you know we’re going back to back with Lynda Carter and Speedy Garfin. So it was kind of a put up or shut situation with Speedy and I in that I’m saying OK Speedy I think this will work and he say’s no I don’t think this will work and then it was kind of put up or shut up, it was going to work or we were going to bomb. As a result, our stuff went over quite well, and it forced Speedy and Lynda to change their format to keep up with us, and kind of formed a better notch for Lynda because it kind of got her into more contemporary music and it kind of upgraded Speedy, Speedy was kind of stuck in an older venue.”
Q: So you formed another band and played against them?
A: “Yes, it was called “Johnson and Johnson.” My brother and a drummer and a girl singer came out from Washington state to New York and formed another band. But it was a friendly competition; we both had to copy from each other to learn. As a matter of fact Debbie Edwards, my girl singer and Lynda were best buddies, they chummed around together.”
Q: Have you been in touch with Lynda at all over the years?
A: “Not at all.”
Q: Do you still have a band, or play in one?
A: “No, I retired from music in 1992.Up till then I still had my own group, and it got smaller and smaller as time went on, groups became trios, and duos, and then at the last I was working with a duo, but I did a lot of single piano bar work, mostly in Florida here in supper clubs and restaurants.”
Q: Were there any recording made at the time of the Garfin Gathering?
A: “Yes, I recorded them, but not for public release. It was a habit that I got into with my own bands, and I wanted to know what we sounded like, so I would set up a tape recorder by the front and record the whole show. Then I would listen to it later, the next day, and we would know what to rehearse and I could show my members of my what we needed to work on. They called me the “Mr. Wizard.” It seemed that every time that Speedy took a picture of me I had my head stuck in electronics and wires stuck all over; I got tagged “Mr. Wizard” because I could always make this electronic stuff work.”
Q: Was the microphone set up in front of the band?
A: “No, I would just tap into the house PA systems for a direct feed, so everything was miked, whatever went through the sound system was what we heard, and maybe one more mike on the organ or guitar, everything was picked up through the vocal mikes. I didn’t do it an awful lot of times, or try to do any professional recordings, but they didn’t come out all that bad.”
Q: It had been really marvelous to let us interview about your career and playing with Lynda and Speedy. Your career has been fascinating.
A: “It gets in your blood, and it’s something…entertainers have a need to do that, for whatever reasons, it doesn’t have to make sense.”
Special Thanks to ED JOHNSON.
All pictures © 1971-2002 by Howard Garfin. All rights reserved.
Interview © 2002 by WONDERLAND • The Ultimate Wonder Woman Site. All rights reserved.
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