Rick Coonce Interview
Webmaster: Rick, It is a great honor to speak with you and we would like to get some input from you concerning your history with the Grass Roots. We would like to put together a biography for your fans and create an historical record. Could you give us a feel for how you became a musician?
Rick: Well, I started playing drums when I was 12. I was teaching drums when I was 16, in a music store. And I played down in Hollywood. Then I was in a battle of the bands. The band I was in took second place and a couple of people, Creed Bratton & Warren Entner were in the audience, they had just gotten back from Israel. They had decided that they wanted to start a rock and roll band. So they got my name and they approached me and I said “Ya, sure, that sounds OK to me” because I was playing in bands anyway.
And then they turned up and they had, you know, NO Equipment! They had an acoustic guitar. And so I worked at a local music store, so I got us some equipment and we started playing beer bars. And then I believe it was Warren, he was the brains of the outfit, put it together for us to do a demo record. We had Kenny Fukomoto on bass and he sang some lead as well. We got the demo record together it was fine, we paid for it playing for one or two weeks at some beer bar. Warren peddled the record to Dunhill Records and that’s fine but Kenny Fukomoto got drafted in the meantime. So we got a record deal and a demo - but no bass player and no singer. Warren sang and Creed sang, so we went down to the union hall, it was Musician’s Union #69. On the bulletin board was a bass player that could sing, and that was Rob Grill. So, unannounced to the record company, the guy that was singing on the demo was in the army. But Rob could sing very well. So Warren, Rob, Creed and myself started. The record company said you are The Grass Roots, we said fine and they said record these two songs. One of the songs was Let’s Live For Today which was ours and on Tuesday we recorded the B side, I think it was one that Warren wrote. And on Wednesday it was on the radio! And on Friday we left for Alaska!
Webmaster: It just all came together.....
Rick: Well ya, it was twenty years in the making for me but when it pops, it pops. And then Creed left the group and we got Dennis Provisor. And Dennis....what a keyboard player and what a vocalist. Warren, Dennis and Rob were the vocalists and they would trade off vocals and they were all tremendous musicians. All I had to do was to count four and don’t fall over. Those guys are really talented and so it went from there. One thing followed another.
One thing that does stick out in my mind, it makes me laugh when I think about it - we were playing somewhere in Boston. I think Boston Gardens or something. We had a roady named Tricky Ricky Williams, the guy was something else. He looked like Yosemite Sam. He had a terrible stutter. He went to a hypnotist and was cured of his stuttering. So, for about two or three months he didn’t stutter and we were going to this gig. There was snow on the ground. Well, Tricky Ricky took off with the equipment in a Hertz rent a truck from the airport. We went to the hotel and were relaxing. Four or five hours later we got to the gig and Tricky was there. The road manager took us to the gig from the hotel. Ricky was the equipment manager. I said “Hey Tricky, where’s our equipment?” and he started stuttering again. Stuttering! I think we were playing with Creedance Clearwater Revival. So then I said to the Creedance road manager “Hey, where’s our equipment?” and he says “You only got the guitars.” I said “So what happened?” He said “Tricky forgot to lock the back door in the Hertz rent a truck. Everything that was on wheels (drums, amplifiers) went out the back door in the snow, on the turnpike!”
Webmaster: So you had no skins?
Rick: I borrowed them from Creedance and those guys loaned us amplifiers. We had the bass and guitars, so that worked out all right. What a hoot! And that guy stuttered until the day he died. He never got over it.
Webmaster: So you pulled it together in the face of challenges. I am sure you met a lot of great people over the years, you were in the business at the apex of many changes that were going on in rock music. Did you travel overseas touring?
Rick: Well, Puerto Rico was the farthest we got. We went to Hawaii. We had plans to go to Japan and Europe but they didn’t pay the money that we could make in the states. So we never did.
Webmaster: You guys were a world wide sensation. Time has been very good to the music that you put out.
Rick: Well, Steve Barri was responsible for a lot of that, he was the producer. He was responsible for a lot of that sound and we had three vocalists and the tunes were written for us basically. We didn’t write too many, we wrote some tunes that we did on the albums, and some were B sides.
Webmaster: Your name appears first on one of them. Songs like Feelings?
Rick: Feelings was a good one. That was a song that Kenny Fukomoto, when I told you that story - he and the rest of the group - basically he wrote Feelings and we arranged it so we got writing royalties - but we recorded Feelings and Rob was the vocalist because Kenny was in the army. He got drafted. Some bad luck...
Webmaster: Have you spoke to him recently?
Rick: No, I haven’t. Last I heard was when I went down to see Warren. He got married back in November. He built a house in Mexico on the beach. I went down to his wedding. It was a party. Four or five days, oh my, but a lot of people that he knew were there. People that were in the music business and people that weren’t but were our friends back in those years, Warren invited them all. He was telling me that the last he had heard, Kenny Fukomoto has a restaurant in San Francisco.
Webmaster: Yes, and the album Feelings is a great one that was held up well over the years. When it came out it wasn’t a hit maker but I bet you played drums throughout that one.
Rick: That’s nice to hear. That’s one that we wrote a fair amount of songs on. Anyway, it was a hoot and the party’s over, just enjoy the good times.
Webmaster: What did you get into when you left the group?
Rick: Well, I immigrated to Vancouver Island in Canada. This island is something else. I went to work as a social worker. I became a child protection social worker after three or four years, I was bored. I built a farm here. I am looking out the window now at the barn here. I retired from my child protection social work about three years ago. I’m just hanging out, I built a recording studio here on the property. And just having a good time.
Webmaster: So there’s a chance you will get back into the music industry down the road.....
Rick: Well I’m going to be sixty years old in August, I hardly think......maybe Keith Richards might be able to pull it off!
Webmaster: What was the actual year you joined the Grass Roots was it 1966?
Rick: It was in ‘66 and we weren’t the Grass Roots yet. We started playing together in ‘66 and then April of ‘67 is when Let’s Live For Today came out.
Webmaster: You were in such a successful group what comes to mind?
Rick: Well......the TV shows. I’ve got to tell you my biggest charge was Ed Sullivan. That’s the one that I always wanted to do if given the opportunity. Dick Clark devoted a whole show to The Grass Roots. We did a lot of Dick Clark productions but in one they gave us the show. Hollywood Palace. I met Jimmy Durante. He was introducing us and he says (Rick does his best Durante impression) “Now I’d like to introduce a very popular group called The Grass Roots - they don’t have a manager, they have a gardener. But they sing great. Ladies and gentlemen The Grass Roots Ha-cha-cha!” He died shortly after that but I got to meet Jimmy Durante!
Webmaster: What was the last song that you recorded with the group?
Rick: Shoot...... I think the song Mamacita is where I was definitely gone.
Webmaster: Do you remember your final day with the group?
Rick: Yep, played in Hawaii. That will be that.
Webmaster: Did you do any work on Alotta Mileage a 1973 album?
Rick: Nope, I don’t think so. Hard to remember.
Webmaster: At this point almost 40 years since you started with the group, do you receive royalties?
Rick: It’s a pittance, not much. I have received some off Feelings because I co-wrote the song, but that’s about it.
Webmaster: Do you keep in touch with your former band mates?
Rick: I’ve talked to Dennis and I’ve talked to Creed, as well as Warren.
Webmaster: I’m sure you get this question often. Could you give me your feelings about doing a reunion?
Rick: Oh, I wouldn’t mind it. It would be fun. Oh, I think so.....
Webmaster: Would it rekindle the chemistry of the original group?
Rick: Well, It’s hard to say... but very well could. Forty years down the road, everybody’s been doing something different. It’s hard to say but it would be fun.
Webmaster: One of our site contributors named Jon Strausser, wanted me to ask you a special question. What are your favorite Grass Roots songs?
Rick: Well.................gee, that’s a hard one. I can give you the ones that are most fun to play drums on. And playing drums live on these were just a hoot. Things I Should Have Said, a Steve Barri, P.F. Sloan song and another one that was fun to play is called Lovin’ Things. Warren picked that song up in England. He heard a group over there, came back and we recorded it. Two Divided By Love is fun to play. Well, their all fun to play. I swear to God, people don’t realize this but we would go out to do a performance, to do a set or whatever and we generally only played hits. Because that’s what people wanted to hear. But you talk about boring (laughs) we’re playing the same songs every night. It got to be just like second nature! I think the musicians were talented people and I think The Grass Roots had a good sound. Steve Barri was responsible for that and Steve Barri was responsible for picking most of the records that were written for us - people were stumbling trying to get The Grass Roots. In fact, an amazing story, we had two songs. Carol King wrote one of them, it was called Lady Pleasure. It starts out in 5/4 time and goes to 4/4 time. We recorded that and recorded Midnight Confessions. They were scratching their heads at the record company about what to release. The president of the record company took both records home and had his teenage daughter listen to them and she picked Midnight Confessions! He said “You got to go with what the kids like.”
Webmaster: And the group was well served by that selection....
Rick: Oh yes. I was in the West Indies two weeks ago and staying at an all inclusive place. One night they had Karaoke and I started looking through the Karaoke book and they had Grass Roots songs in there. I told them I could play air drums - that’s as far as I could go!
Webmaster: The chemistry you and the others had in the early years of The Grass Roots is very evident. Sloan & Barri and the group were all young artists and very creative. What are your feelings about this?
Rick: Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan - they wrote Eve Of Destruction for Barry McGuire and they sang backup in the studio. They were in the shadow of Lou Adler the producer who was doing The Mamas & The Papas and Sloan & Barri were writing songs.......but it was a very good time. And Dennis Provisor, don’t sell him short. He’s talented. I talked to him a while ago. You know that guy - if you talk about music and talk about things in relation to music, the guy is a wizard! He’s just an amazing man.
Webmaster: He brought a new era to the group when he came in...
Rick: He sure did. We went from folk rock and that was Steve Barri as well. But he brought in the vocals and the keyboards. A good example of Dennis - I was going to choke him to death on an airplane! We’re sitting together on an airplane, we were on tour. I was tired and I’m eating an orange. And there is, you know, pits in the orange. I’m going “Damn it anyway” And then I said “But they are necessary” and Dennis says “What for?” and I said “That’s where orange trees come from.” and I could not convince him that those seeds would grow into an orange tree. I was going to open the emergency shoot and shove him out! Once Dennis came on board, he had the synthesizers to reproduce the horns and other sounds from our hits, that allowed us to play them better live. That made things a lot easier.
Webmaster: To be sure.... Thank you for your recollections and all the great music you have given your fans. We would like to create a place for you on the net. It is a small way we can repay you for the music you have given the world.
Rick: Oh, if you want to do that.... Well.... I’ll mail you an album that I recorded in my studio here. Mostly tunes that I’ve written. Well.....listen to this one. My fame exceeds me. I’m a legend in my own mind! It has been a pleasure speaking with you.
Webmaster: Thank you. I hope in the future we can do a few short interviews to update your fans.
Rick: Well.....you say your setting me up a site?
Webmaster: Yes, RickCoonce.com!
Rick: Rick Coonce dot.....well that’s a hoot! Every day above ground is a good one!
Webmaster Update: In January 2017 after 11 years of RickCoonce.com, Rick’s personal site became part of The Grass Roots Official Site, after we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the group in 2016. Rick will go forward in time with the rock group that he was most well known to be key player, into the future.