"EVERY GOOD BAND DESERVES A BOOK"
By any measure, the Outsiders were an extraordinary group, one that's subject to rumor and speculation. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was apparently a fan, and tried -- so the story goes -- to track down the band's lead singer, Wally Tax, on that final, troubled European outing.
My other favorite rumor is that when the Clash started, they wanted to call themselves the Outsiders...until a friend showed them one of the Sixties band's albums, and they promptly changed their name. As a Clash fan, I've never heard that one, either! Not bad for a band that never gatecrashed the US's or UK...but there's more to the story than meets the eye, as Jerome Blanes makes plain in his definitive biography, OUTSIDERS BY INSIDERS.
Taking their cues from the harder-edged fare of brooding Britmod gods like the Pretty Things, and the Rolling Stones, the Outsiders' classic lineup of Leendert Busch (drums), the late Tom Krabbendam (guitar), Appie Rammers (bass, replaced by Frank Beek for the band's final year) Ronnie Splinter (guitar) and the late Wally Tax (vocals) produced three full-length albums and 13 singles between 1965 and 1968...opened for the likes of the Stones...and developed a wild, raucous stage act that earned them bans from various venues...and even provoked full-scale riots.
In short, the Outsiders did what came naturally -- something that many bands trafficking nowadays can't claim, although it doesn't stop them from trying! As a fan of the band and Wally Tax's solo outings, it only seemed natural to look up Jerome via email, and pop some of the million and one questions that hit me a couple summers ago, while reading his book (now available in English, on Misty Lane).
I aimed to tie this in with Valentine's Day, to mark what would have been Wally's 64th birthday, but -- as usual -- found myself battling the million and one mindless tasks that daily life throws up, that just don't interest me a whit, but have to slog through, all the same..."How very Mod," I tell myself, through clenched teeth. But Valentine's Day hasn't ended on the West Coast, Australia, and beyond, so for those of you living there...my intent came technically true, right? And that's quintessentially Mod, too, I suppose.
"EVERY GOOD BAND DESERVES A BOOK"
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): Growing up in Amsterdam: How did you get acquainted with the Outsiders' music, and what qualities attracted you to it? What are the Outsiders' trademark songs, in your opinion?
JEROME BLANES (JB): The Outsiders and myself come from the same neighbourhoods. At the end of the street in which I was born is the pub that was owned by Tom Krabbendam and Wally Tax's brother Fred. Fred still cooks there on Wednesdays I believe. My uncles and my dad loved that pub. I've known the place since I was a baby. I got in contact with a wide range of music styles through my dad. I am a Mod and listen to a variety of related music. Iconic Outsiders songs that can be heard in our world are typically 'Touch' and 'Filthy Rich'. I don't see myself as a writer. I am more of a researcher who publishes his findings. The main reason for writing their biography was because I come from the same background and speak the same dialect.
People have asked me to write books about other bands but I always tell them that one of their locals should write them. But nobody has followed me in this. There is a book about the Q65 since a few years but it is not based on research; it is based on an interview with 2 band members and a few tins of beers. The tins of beer did most of the talking. So nothing is verified and its an incomplete story. I say this with all respect as I am glad at least somebody made an effort. But doing research takes years, and that is exactly what nobody wants to do in The Netherlands.
Let me give you another example: the only book about guitar legend Jan Akkerman was written by an Englishman. In the UK there is a tradition of writing band biographies. In The Netherlands however, people only like writing about themselves. Something that was picked up during the 50s and they don't seem to be able to shake off. Journalists are also more interested in themselves and do no research whatsoever. They always call upon the people they denigratingly call 'fans', for information. Dutch historians and scientists who still write are told these days that they include too much information and should focus more on the 'juicy' parts. We now live in a time of intelectual poverty and all that is written is lightweight pop-writing. Or should I say lightweight poop-writing? The Netherlands used to be at the ultimate top of science, philosophy and progress. But those days have long gone. Its quite embarrassing.
CR: By mainstream standards, the Outsiders are fairly obscure: you won't see them profiled in the likes of MOJO, for instance. What motivated you to write a book about them, and what did you hope to get across to the converted and non-initiated reader alike?
Like I mentioned before: I come from the same town and neighbourhood. I had no big intentions like telling the world about them or anything like that. They simply deserved a book. Every good band deserves a book. I am just sorry I wrote it in Dutch first and not straight away in English.
CR: One interesting aspect of OUTSIDERS BY INSIDERS is how many different views are represented; just about all the major players are present and accounted for (though Wally's stuff seems like it's drawn from past interviews). What were the biggest challenges in writing your book, and rounding up all the major players (as you mentioned near the end, in discussing how everyone started getting hold of each other again before the reunion)?
JB: The fact that sometimes it seems Wally's words were drawn from the past is because as the band's singer he had the most interviews over the years.
I wanted everybody to tell their story in the book because I wanted the truth. I didn't want a book with just Wally's 'wishful thinking'. Many Dutch journalists printed stuff without verifying anything. It was actually the first thing Wally told me when we started meeting up for our talks for the book. He told me to ignore there where it was not him but 'the alcohol talking'. He had some seriously hard times having to fix things he said before. The saddest incident was when he had a TV interview in which they asked him about the Emmy Award he said to have won with Taxfree. Instead of telling them 'the alcohol had been talking', he argued about what Grammies and Emmies are actually awarded for. Poor sod.
The band members had lost contact and it was me visiting everybody and exchanging phone numbers that brought them together again. They jammed a bit at Appie's birthday and immediately found the old magic again. All except Wally, who was only interested in money and argued with everybody. They knew him well and made sure to contact him last. During the tour people lost the plot a little due to the Shirley Temple syndromes some turned out to have. As mod clubs worldwide were starting to show interest in getting them to do gigs, the band dreamed up words like 'comeback' and asked for extremely high fees. Wally started arguing with everybody and accused people of theft. When he left the band after the tour it had a true renaissance and Ronnie, Leen and Appie have been busy ever since. They have actually done a lot of the gigs, venues and clubs they missed out on before. They could have played in London at the biggest Mod club in the world or at Las Vegas Grind but they don't really understand what all that means so they still keep missing out on the big iconic gigs.
"...IF YOU WANT TO BE ANYBODY YOU NEED YOUR OWN SONGS"
CR: One of the more intriguing aspects of the Outsiders, I think, is that -- unlike many bands of the era -- they focused on their own material, versus reworking "I'm A Man" for the umpteenth time. What else made the band so distinctive, and which of their records stand up strongest today?
JB: Actually, they did do covers for quite a while and the old-timers remember them from when they played at the Las Vegas bar in Amsterdam. But they realised that if you want to be anybody you need your own songs. Wally wrote a text, Ronnie came up with a guitar lick and the rest followed. It was one of those rare combinations of people with whom it all happened naturally.
Worldwide the song 'Touch' is still their most sported 45.
CR: The Outsiders vs. Q65: everybody says there wa a rivalry going down, big-time: has that aspect of the Dutch beat scene been overplayed, or have some foundation in reality? What impact did it have on the scene, overall?
JB: There was rivalry between a lot of bands. They sometimes overheard other bands talk bad about them at the guitar shop or wherever they were playing. But the real rivalry was regional. Den Hague bands against Amsterdam bands and vice versa. It hasn't got much to do with music. There has always been a hate from people from the Netherlands towards Amsterdammers. Even now there is this childish hate towards Amsterdam from some well known Rotterdammers for unknown reasons. They openly talk about this in the media and apparently this is acceptable behaviour. As Amsterdammers we hate nobody. We actually accept everybody and have done so since the early 17th century.
"THEY WERE SIMPLY NOT A BAND WHO LIKED SITARS AND ASIAN INFLUENCES"
CR: The Outsiders were successful very quickly, yet never toured internationally -- it's amazing that they didn't make it to the UK, at least, where I think they would have found a receptive audience. How was this possible, you think, in such a small country like the Netherlands?
JB: The Netherlands are not as small as you think. You must understand that music wise the USA during those days consisted of many small countries too. That's how it was possible that one particular song was covered and sold by many different artists at the same time. It wasn't as 'global' as it is now. Nowadays you can't have several covers of one song in the charts. It simply doesn't sell. The Outsiders did some gigs in France and Germany and recorded 1 single in London. England was a difficult country to break into. Too much very talented competition. But its great that they actually did in the end many years later. I remember that 'Touch' and 'Filthy Rich' entered the mod clubs and got included on USA compilations like Pebbles during the late 70s. That's when the worldwide fame started.
CR: When did the wheels start falling off the Outsiders wagon? For me, it's Ronnie Splinter's departure, and the drift to a more progressive feel (of which Ronnie's description on p. 121 is priceless: "They all loved it. But I hated it. I liked playing music that is simple and straight forward like we did earlier"). Do you find that to be true, or what other factors led to the band's demise (failure to bid for contention in other territories, such as the UK)?
JB: Ronnie's temporary departure was a mistake, which he corrected just months later. They then went on making some more great records. Success had declined because times had changed. Music had changed. They were simply not a band who liked sitars and Asian influences. Only Appie ventured into those things. The band didn't. You can read in the book that the audience had also changed. People didn't dance anymore. Instead they liked standing or sitting and listening as if they were art-conaisseurs judging a modern painting. The band felt more related to what was then called underground, which was sometimes weird and experimental, but not psychedelic or Asian influenced. This phenomenon was however short lived. Next to the hippy culture, soul had taken over the world and Ska music was sweeping across Europe with London as its headquarters.
"ANGRY YOUNG MEN ALWAYS LOOK FOR ANGRY YOUNG MUSIC"
CR: Like so many band reunions, the Outsiders' one started on a high note, and ended on a sour one, with Wally leaving (and then suing everybody else) -- a predictable story, you think, or did the reunited band still pull off some worthwhile music as a live unit?
JB: I remember hearing the boys play before they asked Wally to join again. They sounded exactly like during the Sixties. It was amazing. Most reunion bands play with modern equipment or have become too good to go back playing the way they played as a youngster. It would make them feel embarassed. But the Outsiders didn't have those hangups. They simply went back and played like they used to. Especially Appie's bass playing was magic and Ronnie was like a timewarp. There's been a lot of discussion about the quality of Wally's voice. On stage Wally was now trying to look like a sensitive poet rather than the slightly arrogant opinionated young man he was back then. Backstage, during having his makeup done by his girlfriend, he would get into rants, slagging off people around him, blaming everybody for his shortcomings and accusing people of stealing his money. But for most it was a cool thing seeing them all together on stage. All except Tom Krabbendam, who rather kept his memories, and without Frank Beek who died a long time ago. Wally's behaviour was to be expected. He had a big reputation for being difficult and egocentric. The funny thing was that he could be a nice guy too at times. I guess that's what heroin and alcohol does to people.
CR: Wally had the voice, the looks and the writing chops -- and yet, dies broke and virtually forgotten. Why didn't he become better known internationally? What are his most worthwhile solo recordings, in your opion?
JB: He definitely had something. His first solo LP was enchanting but also ruined the friendship amongst The Outsiders. The Taxfree LP, which was recorded at the Electric Ladyland studios, could have had a bigger impact but didn't make it for some reason. Wally blamed the record company for being lame on promotion. After Taxfree Wally had a few singles and LPs that were accepted well in The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. But the writing skills of Wally after that time have always been exaggerated. Duiser and his Abba clone 'Champagne' covered almost all their songs from those few singles and LPs by Wally. Wally never specifically wrote songs for Duiser's bands. Also the song that became a big hit for Lee Towers, 'Raining in my heart', he wrote for himself. Whether he really wrote an extra verse on a napkin is something you can ask Lee Towers. And this was indeed something you could hear on Wally's 70s recordings: most song seemed to be a verse short. It might have had something to do with the drugs problems he developed by then.
In The Netherlands his most appreciated solo recording is 'Miss Wonderful' and the later 'Springtime in Amsterdam' with Ben Waalwijk. Personally I like the stuff on his 'Love In' LP better. But it simply doesn't get anywhere near the impact of the Outsiders' records.
"FOR A LONG TIME I HAD OUTSIDERS FATIGUE"
CR: What is the Outsiders' legacy, in your view? What makes their music relevant for future generations to draw upon?
JB: Much has been said about this. Everything was new then. People played before they could even play. I think Tom Krabbendam said it all in the book when he speaks of blood rushing through your body and feeling like you could do anything. Every new generation has people feeling connected to bands like The Outsiders and their music. I don't think it will ever disappear. But it is mostly the Mod scene and their influence on the world keeping these things alive. That and the fact that angry young men always look for angry young music.
"FOR A LONG TIME I HAD OUTSIDERS FATIGUE"
CR: In looking at your blog, I've seen you go in some intriguing directions (e.g., the self-defense books, and the short histories of the Motions). Do you see yourself doing another big band biography, like OUTSIDERS BY INSIDERS, or have all the major Nederbeat bands been profiled? Without giving too much away -- what's next for you?
JB: For a long time I had Outsiders fatigue. Almost 10 years. Not because of The Outsiders but because of people jumping the bandwagon and using me or the book for their own selfish purposes. The Outsiders fans are great people and have been writing me all this time. The Outsiders are also great and we still have contact even though I am on the other side of the globe. But many others are just opportunists and blood suckers. Therefore I promised myself I would continue only writing about dead people. Of course I dropped that promise pretty quick. I am now writing a lot about martial arts as you can see from my website. The big project at the moment is the biography of Nicolaes Petter, a well known 17th century wrestler and wine merchant from Amsterdam. But my Record Lexicon of Dutch beat, which I compiled long before the Outsiders book, is still available.
You are asking me if all the major Nederbeat bands have been profiled? Man, none of them have been profiled! I am still hoping for a new generation of people who are finally gonna do that before all these musicians have passed away. I have thought of writing about Jan Akkerman as he came from our neighbourhood too. But he has that book written by an Englishman and doesn't really need me. He is doing fine.
There is one Nederbiet band I am still thinking of writing a book about because of their incredibly groovy sounding records that have impressed people worldwide. They deserve a book. But I am still thinking about it. For now I am still busy with several martial arts books. For those who think about putting books together: Most people will never understand that you as a writer won't make money, you will only spend money on research. Only novels like Harry Potter make writers money.
After having lived in London England and Malaysia, I will soon move back to the UK to teach martial arts. I just got an email from Appie Rammers about a recording we made when I played in his Blues band The Rammers many years ago. Fun memories.
I promised Ronnie I would come to look them up upon my return to Europe. Looking forward to that.
JEROME BLANES'S BLOG:
THE OUTSIDERS BLOG:
THE OUTSIDERS: OFFICIAL SITE:
Note: This site is in Dutch, but hey...for the dedicated fan, there's never been a better time to learn, right?
Remember: as new entries are posted, previous ones are pushed further back, and seem to vanish off the page -- but they're still here! For a complete list, just click the "Archive" button (above), then hit the appropriate link to find your favorite interview.