Leon presents The Grass Roots 1982 recording contract to Rob at the Palomino Club in Hollywood

Interview With Leon Tsilis - July 19, 2008

 

Leon is one of the producers of the Powers Of The Night LP and singles released in 1982. Over his 10 year relationship with MCA records, he worked as a local Promotion & Marketing Manager and Regional Promotion Manager. He did special projects, album compilations & production for MCA in the south, most notably Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gold and Platinum” album and finally settled in as Director of A&R based out of Los Angeles. He has signed and produced many notable artists in addition to The Grass Roots. He was responsible for bringing Chubby Checker, The Fixx, The Catholic Girls and The Rossington Collins Band to name a few, to the label. He co-produced or had a hand in the production of Bandera, Chubby Checker, Wishbone Ash and The Catholic Girls to name a few. Leon, thank you for giving us your recollections of the 1982 Grass Roots studio releases. I will give you a name or happening and you can tell us what comes to mind.

Webmaster: How did it come together that you and Evan Pace produced a new studio album for The Grass Roots?

Leon: My association with Evan Pace began during the recording sessions for Chubby Checker's "The Change Will Come" album. I chose Evan to produce Chubby's album on the strength of the demos that were submitted to MCA, which led me to sign Chubby.

After that I asked Evan if he'd like to produce a new wave act, The Catholic Girls, which I had recently signed to the label. I felt that he was the best person to do the job as he had good song sense and had a good grip on the production techniques of the day. During those sessions Evan asked if I would like to become involved in the Mix Downs for the album, which I did. Unlike The Go Go’s, The Catholic Girls played every note heard on record. That was really the first time that I worked hands on with Evan and the result led to a stunning album of Girl Rock that defined that time period.

It wasn't long after that, that The Grass Roots demo crossed my desk. I had no idea the band was still together. "Here Comes That Feeling Again" sounded like a hit the first time I played it and play it I did, over and over again. Couldn't get it out of my head. I set up a meeting with David Wood to strike a one off deal for The Grass Roots to record "Here Comes That Feeling Again." It was to be a single release only and if it did well we would commit to doing the album.

Up to this point I had not met Rob yet. All my business dealings were with David. I played David some tracks from Chubby's album and The Catholic Girls and told him that I would really like for Evan Pace to produce the single. He agreed that a more contemporary producer was needed for the day’s market place. I contacted Evan and after listening to the proposed single he signed on, but only if I would agree to co-produce with him. He knew my responsibilities at the label and that I would not be able to be there during the entire sessions. He wanted someone with a fresh set of ears to come in at night to listen to the tapes to see if they were heading in the right direction with the project. I agreed and the rest is history.

Before we ever went into the studio I went back to my boss, Bob Siner, and told him what the plan was. I played him the demo again and he agreed that with the proper production it was a hit. Then he asked me if this was the one off that I had done. “Yes”, was my response. He then said that I should go back to David and offer Rob an album deal as he too was beginning to believe in the potential of the song. I had another meeting with David and the album deal was struck.

Now here's the fun part. Rob had no idea that an album deal had been made.

Seems that The Grass Roots were going to be performing at the Palomino night club in North Hollywood, CA a week or so after we agreed to do the album. I told David to hold off on telling Rob. Just tell him that a bunch of folks from MCA would be coming to the show and after the performance I would come on stage with the contract for the single to sign. Which he did. On the night of the show I came up to the stage with the contract, in front of a full house and said something like, “Rob, I know that you were expecting to sign a contract tonight to do a new single for MCA Records. There's been a change of plans! Instead we would like for you and The Grass Roots to record a new album for MCA”. Needless to say, the expression on Rob’s face was priceless.

Webmaster: Songwriter contributions…

Leon: Good question. We knew going in that we would need some great songs for this album. I put the word out to all the publishing houses that we were looking for tunes that would fit into a contemporary Grass Roots style. The title track, "Powers Of The Night" was a song that I brought to the table. I had been holding on to it since my stint in Nashville. Powers was written by Frieda Parton (Dolly's sister) and Mark Andersen. When I first met Frieda and Mark I told them how much I loved the song and would one day be using it. Well, that day had come. I can't tell you how pleased Frieda & Mark were when they heard the song on the album.

"Here Comes That Feeling Again" was written by John Sembello & Louie Shelton. Rob and David brought this one in. Another great song that appeared as the first single from the LP. This more than any other tune on the album captured the essence of the old Grass Roots meeting the new.

"Try Me" was written by Alex Call and Jim Keller. I don't really remember who submitted this song for consideration. I would suspect that it was Rob & David. Good song though, no matter where it came from.

"Keeps On Burning" was written by Rob Grill and Bobby Bennett. Not one of my favorites on the album. I used to think to myself that one day it would probably end up as an advertisement for a hemorrhoid commercial.

"I'm Not Gonna' Cry Anymore", by Bobby David was absolutely my favorite song on the LP. Rob and the band did an exceptional job of bringing this one to life. Rob's vocals on this track are at his most powerful. I still get chills every time I hear this track. ( Rob, you really should consider putting this one in your live set. )

"She Don't Know Me" was written by Mark Avsec of Donnie Iris fame. This song first appeared on the "Fair Warning" album that was released on MCA a year prior to Rob's signing. I always felt that done right, this song could be a hit record, and I know for a fact that Rob did also. This ended up as the second single from the album, probably should have been the first. If memory serves me correctly, She Don't Know Me did get airplay on the Adult Contemporary stations and did chart. Crossing it over to Top 40 airplay was a different story.

To add salt to the wound, She Don't Know Me was recorded about 6 months later by a virtually unknown band at the time, Bon Jovi, and it went on to become a hit. Sometimes I feel that the MCA Promotion department paved the way for that to happen. Program and Music directors had heard the song many times and it was already familiar to them when they heard the Bon Jovi version. I, to this day, believe that The Grass Roots version is the definitive take on this song. If you're amongst the lucky few who have a copy of this album, pull it out and give it a listen. It still holds up today.

"Mirage", by Michael Clark and John Bettis came to me through an old producer friend of mine Dane Eric. It has a very Fleetwood Mac feel sans the female vocals. Rob and the lads did a great job on the arrangements on this track. Still a favorite of mine.

"You've Got To Be The One", by Evan Pace & Scott Lipsker. I really can't comment on this one as it somehow snuck by me. I don't believe it would have appeared on the album if not for the fact that Evan was the co-producer.

"Feels Like The First Time" was written by Rob Grill, Detlef Petersen and Inga Rumpf. I really liked this song the very first time I heard it. Nice bluesy song and a great addition to the album. Rob's vocals shine on this one.

"A Little Too Little" was written by Alex Call. To be honest, I really have no idea who brought this song into the mix.

Webmaster: Studio personnel…

Leon: We recorded the album at the Music Grinder in Hollywood, CA. Gary Skardina & John Koverek were the two engineers who twisted the knobs and got the sounds that made the album work. Super kudos to these guys as a producer is only as good as the engineers they work with. Gary & John are top shelf engineers and a joy to work with. Don't know if the Music Grinder is still around but back in the day it was a great place to record. If memory serves me correct, Rob did not play the bass parts on the album. I believe that Scott Lipsker did those. Not that Rob could not have done the parts, but he felt that Scott could do a better job. Correct me if I'm wrong on this Rob.

Webmaster: David Wood…

Leon: I have fond memories of David. He was a highly energetic personality whose best interest centered on his belief in Rob Grill and The Grass Roots. Without David, I don't believe that a recording contract at MCA would have been possible. He was one of the few artist managers that I truly enjoyed working with. Whatever happened to David?

Webmaster: Rob Grill...

Leon: Rob is in every sense of the word a true professional. I enjoyed my time with Rob and spending some off time at his apartment in Hollywood. Always the perfect gentleman with no attitude. I still remember to this day the time we went to American Bandstand. Did you know that The Grass Roots hold the record for most appearances on the show? It was one of my favorite moments sitting in the bleachers watching The Grass Roots perform. Dick Clark welcomed Rob like an old friend who had gone missing for too long. It was great!

I took my girlfriend to Hershey Park two summers ago to see The Grass Roots play. Upon arriving I went to the back stage area and asked a security guard to tell Rob that Leon Tsilis was here to see the show. Not more then a minute passed and Rob came out the door to greet me. It was great to see my old friend again. After a blazing show, one which my girlfriend commented, “I never knew they had so many hits”, Rob and I caught up on old times. He was still the humble and gracious gentleman that I remembered from my days at MCA. Rob will always have my personal respect, not only as an artist but as a down to earth human being. Cheers to you Rob.

Webmaster: Ralph Gilmore, Charles Judge and Terry Oubre…

Leon: Ralph Gilmore was like a human metronome. Ralph was a very solid drummer as this album shows.

Charles Judge added the sweetness to the project with his unique keyboards and vocals. All you had to do was tell him what type of sound you wanted on a track and he delivered. Just listen to Mirage and Powers Of The Night. That's Charles' signature keyboard playing all over the place.

Terry Oubre was a joy to work with. Being a guitar freak myself, I marveled at Terry's playing.

All, in all, this version of The Grass Roots really delivered the goods.

Webmaster: What was your greatest achievement to get this record released and distributed?

Leon: Another good question. I believe the biggest hurdle was to get my colleagues at MCA to believe in the project. Especially my boss, Bob Siner. Once he came on-board everything else fell into place. The single most important factor in getting the label behind The Grass Roots was after I brought in some rough mixes from the studio to play at a staff meeting. Jaws dropped and minds opened. The Grass Roots of the 60's still had viability in the 80's.

Webmaster: What do you like about the album?

Leon: First and foremost being able to work with Rob and The Grass Roots. Second, after all these years I'm pretty much satisfied with the outcome, but if I had to do it over again I'd probably take a couple of songs off the recording and replace them with better tunes. Thinking back I would have liked to re-record one of their hits with an 80's feel like the way the Human League did to "Tainted Love." Oh well, hindsight and all that jazz.

All in all, it's a good record with some very strong moments.

Webmaster: What do you think it would take to get Powers Of The Night and some other Grass Roots albums released on CD?

Leon: Boy, you tell me. I have no idea what's going on at Universal today. Seems that they are more about destroying the music industry then aiding consumers in enjoying the product in their catalog. I'm not saying that they should press up CDs of the album, but they could make these tunes available for downloading on iTunes or other pay for play distributors. Universal seems to be locked in the 70's when it comes to modern distribution methods. They want to make CD in the hopes of selling physical product, the only problem is that the physical record store has become a thing of the past. Their only hope of getting these things to market is through Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Circuit City or Amazon. The ones who lose in all this are the consumers who would like to catch up on the great music that continues to be locked up in the vaults at Universal.

Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to express my thoughts and feelings on this long lost and forgotten gem by The Grass Roots.