September 23, 1997
by Gary James
Iron Butterfly. Forever remembered for the song "In A Gadda Da Vida." Formed in 1966, Iron Butterfly has been identified as psychedelic rock, acid rock, underground, heavy rock and heavy metal. In 1968, Iron Butterfly recorded the album IN A GADDA DA VIdA with the ground-breaking 17:05 minute song of the same name. "In A Gadda Da Vida," the song, re-edited to a seven minute version remained on the Billboard charts for 140 weeks. The original album VIDA outsold every record in the history of recorded music within the first year of its release. For the occasion, Atlantic Records awarded the band the first-ever Platinum album.
Iron Butterfly is back. They've just currently toured Europe and seen the release of IN A GADDA DA VIDA by Rhino Records. A deluxe collection, the CD set is completely re-mastered with added bonus tracks. A U.S. tour is planned, and upon the completion of that tour, the band will then go into the studio to record a new CD. We spoke with Iron Butterfly lead vocalist, Doug Ingle.
Q: Doug, let's start with the present. There is still an Iron Butterfly as we speak?
A: Oh, yeah.
Q: And you have a record deal?
A: No, we don't want one right now. (Laughs) Five days prior to taking off on our European tour, we opened our own studio. We have as yet to access that. I've been home for about a week and a half now. At any rate, as we were rehearsing for the tour, we were having the security alarm system put in to protect our gear during our absence. So, you hear music on one side and drills on the other side, and I don't even know the code, at this point. But, at any rate, the whole idea behind that is, we want to do our own productions, and then once we have a finished product in hand. We don't want to rush the creative process with somebody else's money, trying to tell us how to play the songs and which market to appeal to and so on and so forth. We just want to rehearse our songs, take 'em out, play 'em live, and get the market research if you will. The ones that are fan-based or our audience gives the nod to, these will be the ones most likely included on the first round. So, we want to do our own production and keep the cost down simply by going in and doing performances of that which we have the confidence factor built in, and the assurance of the people that have already responded favorably. Then, once that's all mixed down and ready to go, then we will negotiate a distribution agreement with one of the majors, to hook up with their international machine. Probably Warner Bros. would get the first right of refusal on such an approach because of our history with Atlantic.
Q: When in Europe, have you been performing clubs, theaters?
A: Yeah, it was mainly minimum rock ballrooms anywhere from 500 to 1,000 attendance. WE got attendance records on a number of 'em. Approximately 85 percent of the buyers want us back and 50 percent of the entire gambit want us back in larger venues, and they want to put more promotion behind it. Needless to say, a number of these are the ones we sold out. We had double encores as a constant part of the experience.
Q: According to Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia of Rock 'n Roll, Iron Butterfly sold 7 million albums and IN A GADDA DA VIDA sold 3 million copes alone. Do you know how many LPs, CD's, and cassettes you've sold?
A: Well, I don't know what time frame they're giving reference to, but the last count I got, it was closer to 32 million. I was having a conversation with Ray Costa (Butterfly's publicist) just yesterday, and I was inquiring of him, what about the Cleveland Hall of Fame? Have we been given the acknowledgment at the Hall of Fame for having the first Platinum album in history or not? We had a falling out with Ahmet Ertegun (founder of Atlantic Records) at one point. Even though he had created the Platinum album for the Butterfly and presented it to us, it was in Billboard, with his picture presenting it to us; later on he went ahead and acknowledged for all intense purpose Led Zeppelin as being the first recipients as such. At any rate, I have Ray checking on that. He informed me that the RIAA was not an official organization until the early 70's which means there is no means by which we can officially verify the actual numbers sold in '69, at least not according to the RIAA. That would have to come under the heading of accounts.
Q: Was Iron Butterfly the first of what we would call a heavy metal group?
A: We've been accused of such. You know, as far as handles go, I refer often to 1967-1970, and this is prior to the METAMORPHISIS line-up; the Butterfly was pretty consistent as to the music we put out. You could tell it was Iron Butterfly, same as you could tell it was Chicago. So, there was an identifiable sound and yet during that 3-4 year period, we had been called underground, acid rock, psychedelic, and then heavy. So much for handles. It's whatever the market would bear at the time, whatever handle they assigned to our particular approach to the subject of music. I really couldn't tell you. Then you have Blue Cheer and Cream, who's heavy and who isn't, I don't know. Def Leppard once accredited us as being the father of heavy metal. The only reason I shy away from that reference is simply because I'm not convinced that I really like where heavy metal has gone.
Q: You guys never had the leather look.
A: I had a suede coat at one time. (Laughs)
Q: Where did the name Iron Butterfly come from? It is a rather strange name.
A: Well, yours truly. We were sitting around trying to make up group names for this new group that ended up being called Iron Butterfly. We wanted a melodic consciousness contained within the rock format. We worked to broaden the horizons, and be able to engage the dynamics, the highs, the lows, the melodies, the sensitivity, and all that stuff, but at the same time doing it via the vehicle of electronic sound. It's mentioned on the VIDA album that we wanted something light and heavy and versatile and colorful, so that's pretty much what we come up with. Insects were in at the time, what with The Beatles and what not. (Laughs)
Q: Hey, I never made the connection. That's pretty smart. Now, you guys worked 300 plus days a year for two years. Where were you working, and why did you have to work so hard?
A: Well, the consciousness of the administrative team in Los Angeles. Don't think we weren't asking for vacation, and at one point we even demanded. But, bottom line is, we had given over complete power of attorney to our management. We were children among men basically, which is not uncommon for young rock personalities. At any rate, their whole mindset was sell 'em while they're hot because they viewed us as more of a finish in the pen than a long term solution. We weren't individual stars. We were a group. They figured it was a short-lived experience at best; therefore, we better sell 'em while things're hot. We would come home thinking we were gonna finally realize our 2 week vacation, only to find out that we had to leave in another 3 days for another month and a half or two, and if we didn't, the buyers would sue us. I backed out in '71. I was just burned out. That's where the problem with Ahmet came, because the Butterfly still owed Ahmet one additional original album, and I just walked away from the whole thing.
Q: When you backed out in '71, you had been with the group for how long?
A: Well, I formed it in August of '66. So, I pulled out in December '71.
Q: That's a pretty good run.
A: I'll say. I mean, sleeping on office floors initially, 3, 4, sometimes 5 shows a night, 6 nights a week. I loved being there at that time, doing that. So it was pretty much a consciousness of I would have done it for free, and of course it didn't take long for certain people to discover that, and I ended up doing it almost for free. (Laughs)
Q: When you were on the road, were you able to write at all?
A: No. That was another frustration of mine. The deadline, release dates kept coming, but all I was taking in as far as my mental and emotional diet was repetitiveness, whether that's on an airport terminal, a hotel lobby, waiting to find out if they can find our reservations or if they just don't like the way we look, and say no we can't find anything for you guys. In the late 60's, it wasn't really a social convenience to be going around, especially the mid-west with hair down to your tailbone. It was interesting.
Q: You should probably write your autobiography.
A: Yeah. People suggest that from time to time. I just say I can't really write the story until it's completed, and it won't be completed until I am. So the best I could do would be to write my memories, and maybe somebody else could pick it up at another time after I check out.
Q: You were performing in places like The Whisky A Go-Go. Is that correct?
A: Yeah. That was initially prior to our first national tour where we were contracted to lead off for Jefferson Airplane.
Q: Did people come in to The Whisky to listen to bands? What kind of a place was it?
A: It was a real tourist trap. They'd have the headliners, and it was "the" place to go. When we finally got up to that neck of the woods on the Strip, keeping in mind we started way down between Hollywood and Sunset, down by Vine Street, we were basically a cover group committed to supplanting the cover tunes with original tunes as we went along. We began to work our way up the Strip and we finally got on the same block as The Whisky and we were playing a club two doors west of The Whisky on the same side of the street called The Galaxy. Admittedly the cover charge was less than what The Whisky was charging, and they didn't turn the house; well, they did on weekends, but not during the week. So, it was a pretty good deal. If you just wanted to go to the Strip and not go broke and have a good time, you could go to The Galaxy and listen to the Butterfly. We were the house band there. Occasionally, on the weekends, we'd lead off at The Galaxy for Ike and Tina Turner Revue and other former headline acts re-visited. But, our line on the weekends would go down past The Whisky's when they were having headliners like Smoky Robinson and The Miracles, The Doors, or whoever. Our line would go on up the block with The Whisky's, down an alley, then go all around the block and past itself. This went over like a lead balloon with The Whisky's. (Laughs) So, they actually enacted an unprecedented thing up to that time, they hired us as the house band. That's when we started leading off for everybody and his brother. It was at The Whisky that the labels started coming to see the act and actually bid against each other to sign us. We'd already proven our underground marketability.
Q: You opened for people like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane...
A: Buffalo Springfield, The Turtles, Smoky Robinsin and The Miracles, The Supremes, and on and on.
Q: And Janis?
A: Oh, yeah, at The Hollywood Bowl. That was our first time with her.
Q: Just curious, did you get a chance to meet these people after the gig.
A: Of course, and during the gig. Like The Doors and all the groups at The Whisky, we shared the same dressing room upstairs.
Q: What can you tell us about Jim Morrison? How did you find him to be?
A: I found him to be pretty cognitive actually, contrary to the image of him. One occasion that may give some clarity to it would be one evening we were leading off with him at The Whisky. His folks came to the show and they were sitting front row center. During the show he was of course way out there, the ultimate storyteller. You'd swear watching him that he's on something, there's no doubt, but, between shows he joined his folks and he conversed with them, was very civilized, very proper, was like a completely different person. That tell me that he was a performer, and the image he projects on stage really has precious little to do with him as a person offstage.
Q: I've been saying the same thing for years. How can you be in a band that is expected to tour, record, rehearse and be on drugs?
A: Except in perception, if that's the image you're trying to project.
Q: Were Jim's parents enjoying the show?
A: They seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Q: You played the Newport Pop Festival in 1968, with people like Jimi Hendrix. Did you get the chance to chat with Hendrix?
A: Not at that particular venue. However, when the Butterfly would perform in Manhattan, whether that was Madison Square Garden, Central Park, or the Fillmore East, often the underground groups that came through there would go to an underground club for the after hours. As you may imagine, if you're headlining, you go on late, and then you're all keyed up and you're gonna go back to the hotel, right? Think again. So there was a club called The Speakeasy and it was literally underground. You'd take the staircase down. At the time I was dating the hat check girl there, when I was in town. (Laughs) Buddy Miles would frequent the place. Jimi would frequent the place. Traffic would go there often. Butterfly would go there often, and jam. This one evening Jimi cornered me in the men's bathroom, and I think he was tripping at the time, 'cause he was looking up at the bathroom ceiling attempting to describe to me, in reference to various colors of the spectrum, the rainbow and whatnot, about this concept of a new project he wanted to pursue called Band of Gypsies. I can't say that I understood exactly what he was trying to represent, but he did spend a good 10 or 15 minutes attempting to communicate such to me. Like Janis Joplin, we did a pop festival outside of New Orleans, and even though we shared the marquee on a number of occasions, whether it was the Anaheim Convention Center, the Hollywood Bowl, or Winterland, the Fillmore, the Newport Pop Festival, I didn't really think Janis would acknowledge me, as a person. Why? I don't know, probably because I know her as a rock star, you know? (Laughs) At any rate, this is after she had left Big Brother, with her new band, the horn section and all that. She came running up to me backstage, threw her arms around me, crying and said, "Doug, why don't they like me?" She'd just gotten offstage. I was kind of surprised, one, that she was confiding to me, on something that meant something to her. The best I could do was, "Sweetheart, you just have to give 'em time. What they were expecting was Big Brother, and 'A Piece of My Heart,' and that presentation. What you're doing now is every bit as good as the past, you just have to give 'em a little more time. They're coming to see a manifestation of what they've heard on record. You put out some new stuff and they're gonna be right there for you. They love you." She thanked me and went on her way, and I had to leave. But, it's a strange world out there. I shared her Southern Comfort with her at the Anaheim Convention Center. It's a different world. We acknowledge each other as we travel around the country with the understanding that there's a first time for everything and a last time for everything and it's kind of like a family. We don't get all excited when we see each other and we don't get all sad when we have to go our separate ways. We just trust that one day we'll cross paths again.
Q: I saw this Unsolved Mystery segment on Phil Kramer (ex-Iron Butterfly member). What's going on anyway?
A: They still don't have any specific data as to his status. They have their suspicions, but, nothing which can be substantiated.
Q: Do you believe that the U.S. government would kidnap him, because he discovered an equation that is faster than the speed of light?
A: I don't know. It would be based on my ability to be one of two things, probably somewhere in between, my capacity for mysticism, my capacity for prejudice, my capacity for clear thinking. (Laughs) Any number of scenarios are possible. If you want to look at possible abduction, then you have to look at other foreign interests, that may have absconded with him to access his mind. You know, he could be in the protection custody type of situation with our government to protect him against other powers. It may not have anything to do with governments at all. It may have something to do with his partnerships. I don't know. I just don't know. Oh, I can say in knowing Phil to the extent that I did, not close or anything, back in 1974 was the time period I met him, drug free, clear-thinking, brilliant, physiologically sound. He had the physique that a lot of people would kill for. He did religiously a thousand sit ups a day. It was January 12, 1994 that he disappeared. No trace of him or his van.
Q: "In A Gadda Da Vida" was the song that made Iron Butterfly. Were there other hit songs as well?
A: No. Not by any stretch of the imagination. The most recognizable songs as far as the fan base population would be the song on the flip side of "Vida" for obvious reasons. They bought "Vida" and happened to hear the other side, and BALL which was an album that more or less rode the tidal wave of "Vida," as far as peaked interest levels.
Q: You wouldn't call yourselves one hit wonders, would you?
A: No, I wouldn't. People will ask me as a conceptualist, a songwriter, whatever, what's your favorite song? Quite frankly, I don't have a favorite song. I sort of view them as all my children.
Editor's note: Gary James files his interviews from Syracuse, NY.