Larry Wiegand: Dick and I were really into instrumental music -- groups like the Ventures, Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy, Lonnie Mack, and Booker T & the MG's. But we liked just about anything rockin' or soulful. Doo wop, Chuck Berry, Elvis, early Motown, among others. We listened to KDWB and WDGY, which were the Minneapolis top-40 AM stations in the fifties and sixties. (WDGY-1130 was purchased by Todd Storz, the father of the top-40 format, in 1956. KDWB-630 became a top-40 station in 1959. The two stations battled for ratings supremacy in Minneapolis-St.Paul throughout the sixties and early seventies.)
Songfacts: When you started your band in 1967, you called it South 40. How did you put the group together? Did you have auditions or invite other musicians based on their talent?
Larry: In 1962, we had started playing music with other guys who were friends from the neighborhood. We didn't know what talent was -- we just wanted to express ourselves and play. We called ourselves the Knights, and later the Rave-Ons. In 1967, we got together with some of the members of another local band called the Jokers Wild and formed South 40. The name South 40 came out of our manager's mind. He was very good at marketing and he had some ideas on how a band with that name could be promoted. With his help we started playing all over the place -- we played at University of Minnesota frat houses and other school and college events and later started playing at clubs and ballrooms.
Songfacts: What kind of music did South 40 perform?
Larry: We covered a lot of the soul and blue-eyed soul songs of the mid-sixties -- Wilson Pickett, the Rascals, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Otis Redding, and so on. In 1968, we recorded a live album called Live at Someplace Else, which was the name of a club where we used to play. It was done on a Scully 8-track recorder, which was pretty primitive compared to what is used now. That LP sounds really cheesy to me now, but we had some regional success and we started working on taking it to the next level. After we got a record producer interested, we decided to change the name to Crow because we thought South 40 sounded like the name of a country band. The new name seemed to fit our music somehow.
Songfacts: Crow won a "battle of the bands" in Des Moines in 1968, which entitled you to a recording session at the Columbia Records studio in Chicago. What didn't Columbia like about your demos?
Larry: It's my belief that they were looking for another Gary Puckett, who was big for them at that time. We were a little funky for them -- we sounded more like Steppenwolf than Gary Puckett, and I think that's why they passed on us.
Songfacts: An A&R guy from Dunwich Productions was present at your recording session and liked what he heard.
Larry: Dunwich had many successful artists at the time. The Shadows of Knight, Buckinghams, Coven, Styx, American Breed, Cryin' Shames, Minnie Ripperton, Mason Profit, H.P Lovecraft, Illinois Speed Press, etc.
Songfacts: Dunwich produced your first LP and shopped it to a number of record companies. How did you end up signing with Amaret, which was a very small label?
Larry: The band wanted to sign with Atlantic, which had made us an offer, but Dunwich thought we'd get more attention as a big fish in a small pond. So we ended up with Amaret.
Songfacts: I can't imagine "Evil Woman" without the horns, but I've read that you guys weren't happy about horns being added to that song.
Larry: We didn't know they were going to add the horns. Dunwich did what they thought was right about getting a successful record out. I find it funny about what's been said on the internet about us not liking the horns. Those guys did a great job of playing the charts. Our only problem was that we didn't have a horn section when we toured, so we couldn't reproduce the sound when we performed live.
Larry: My brother Dick and I were working on that song's chord progression, and Dave Wagner, our lead singer, was in the next room listening. He started writing down lyrics and we put them together.
Songfacts: The song's lyrics are very frank: "The morrow will not change your shameful deed/You will bear someone else's fertile seed" in the first verse, and "You want me to claim this child you bore/But I know that it was he, not me" in the second verse. Not much doubt what is going on in this song. What inspired the lyrics? Was it totally fictional, or based on a true situation?
Larry: It was not a fictional story but had the same inspiration as Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Both tell the story of a guy who was accused of being the father of a gal's baby. He claims he isn't the father. "Evil woman, don't play those games with me" is his response to her accusations. Not an uncommon story for young folks -- then or now. All the Crow songs were about what young folks had to deal with at one time or another. I like to think each song is a snapshot of what was happening to us at the time.
Songfacts: "Evil Woman" was released as a single late in 1969. Was it the first single off your album?
Larry: "Evil Woman" was actually our second single. The first was "Time To Make A Turn," which was also on our first album, Crow Music. We didn't think "Time To Make A Turn" would be a hit and it wasn't. "Evil Woman" was a different story. Radio stations all over the country started to play it after a station in Seattle broke it out first. For some reason, it wasn't especially popular in Minnesota. We did get airplay there but not as much as in other cities.
Songfacts: Did you ever appear on "American Bandstand"?
Larry: We never appeared on "Bandstand" but we did some local TV shows. I remember doing one in Chicago and one in DC.
Larry: We played with Janis Joplin in Minneapolis, Madison (Wisconsin) and Chicago and we were really impressed with her talent and power. Out of all the acts we opened for, Janis and the Yardbirds had the greatest influence on us. But I really believe Crow was a harder-working band than any of the bands we performed with. We used to pride ourselves on playing hard, doing our best and leaving folks happy.
The singles from Crow's second album (Crow by Crow) and its third album (Mosaic) failed to duplicate the success of "Evil Woman." Wiegand and the other members of Crow were excited about the songs they had written for a proposed fourth album, but Amaret didn't think they were commercial enough.
Larry: Well, they never talked to any of the band members before they recorded it, although they probably did talk to Dunwich. We released the song first and had the hit here in the States. Then they re-recorded it and released it as their first single but only on the English LP. "Evil Woman" was also covered by Ike and Tina Turner on their Come Together LP in 1970, but they changed the title to "Evil Man" to make it work with a female singer.
Songfacts: You became very disillusioned with Amaret after they rejected your new material, and you wanted to change labels.
Larry: We had distribution problems with Amaret. That was a big deal at the time. The Amaret president was a problem for us in letting us go to Elektra, which wanted to sign us -- he finally agreed to let us out of our contract but only if we agreed not to use the name Crow. We never could work it out. And we had problems with our own personal manager also.
Larry: My brother had just moved back from Los Angeles and I was working with Bobby Vee at that time when Dave Wagner was putting together the 1980 version of Crow, so we weren't invited into the mix at the time.
Larry: We don't do too much traveling. We've played mostly in the midwest but also some southern states. We've played with many acts from that era -- Edgar Winter, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly, Rick Derringer, Uriah Heep, Delbert McClinton... the list goes on and on. We'd love to go overseas and play. We get a lot of requests to do that.
Songfacts: What were some of the bands over the years that you and the other guys in Crow were fans of?
Larry: Boy, that's a tough one. There were so many great groups we loved -- Mitch Ryder, the Stones, Wilson Pickett, the Beatles, the Rascals, James Brown, the Yardbirds, Deep Purple, Eric Burdon, Bob Seger, Tower of Power, Poco, the Eagles. I already mentioned the Ventures -- Nokie Edwards was a great lead guitarist. A couple of lesser-known bands I like a lot are the Crusaders and the Dixie Dregs. There was a group from Minneapolis called Gypsy that was very good that didn't get as much attention as I thought they should have -- also a group called Dreams from New York City.
Songfacts: Do you do any covers of other groups' hit songs in your live shows in addition to Crow originals?
Larry: We do "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" by the Animals, "Cry To Me" by Solomon Burke, "Take It Off The Top" by the Dixie Dregs. Also some Delbert McClinton songs. They're all great songs to play live.
Songfacts: "Evil Woman" was a favorite of mine -- it came out when I was a senior in high school, and I remember it vividly -- but I didn't really know anything about Crow's other music before contacting you to do this interview. Do you hate being called a "one-hit wonder"? Is it frustrating that "Evil Woman" is all that most fans know about Crow's music?
Larry: No, I don't hate being called a one-hit wonder. I'm glad we had one big hit. And I never get tired of playing "Evil Woman." It is a little frustrating that more folks aren't aware of our other songs, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.
Songfacts: What Crow songs deserved a better fate? What do you think were the best Crow songs other than "Evil Woman"?
Larry: "Busy Day," "Cottage Cheese," "Something In Your Blood," "Mobile Blues." ("Busy Day" originally appeared on Crow's debut album, Crow Music. "Cottage Cheese" -- which made it to #56 on the Billboard charts -- was on their second album, Crow by Crow. All four songs -- along with "Evil Woman" -- are available on the Classics 1969-1972 CD that is for sale on Crow's website.)
Songfacts: "Cottage Cheese" has to be one of the oddest names ever for a rock 'n' roll single. How did you come up with it?
Larry: We needed a song that would feature our drummer, Denny Craswell, doing a drum solo. So my brother Dick and I came up with this riff and we all started working on it at rehearsal. We eventually recorded it but we didn't have a name yet. The engineer needed to label it something so Dave told him to just call it "Cottage Cheese" until we came up with something better. We never did, so that name stuck.
Songfacts: Final question. You're a bass player, and I think bass players tend to get overlooked by a lot of casual fans -- they usually aren't as well-known as singers, guitarists, and drummers. Who are some of your favorite electric bass players?
Larry: My all-time favorites are James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey, Paul Samwell-Smith, Rocco Prestia, and Paul McCartney -- they are all idols of mine. (Jamerson was the bassist on most of the early Motown hits. Rainey was a great session musician who recorded with Laura Nyro, the Rascals, Al Kooper, Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan and many others. Samwell-Smith was a founding member of the Yardbirds. Prestia was the bassist for Tower of Power.) I was influenced by all these bassists, but especially Jamerson and Paul Samuel-Smith. But all of them are my idols.
Songfacts: Thanks, Larry -- and good luck to you and the rest of Crow.
To learn about Crow's upcoming live appearances or order their CDs, go to the band's website, thecrowband.com. To read more by Gary Hailey, visit his music blog, 2 or 3 lines.
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