Interview: Blues Magoos’ Peppy Castro on their first album in 40 years, teaching Ace Frehley guitar and throwing down with Keith Moon

 
 

Psychedelic and garage rock pioneers The Blues Magoos are in the midst of a Northeast road swing in support of last year’s album Psychedelic Resurrection, which is their first new studio album in 40 years.

Known best for the hit “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet,” the band plays tomorrow night at Johnny D’s Uptown in Somerville, so Vanyaland figured now would be as good a time as any to catch up with head Magoo Peppy Castro about making the comeback, what it was like back in those psychedelic 60s and find out just how nuts Keith Moon could get.

Michael Christopher: The first and most obvious question is: what the heck took so long to get Blues Magoos back in the studio? 

Peppy Castro: [laughs] I know – right? It’s been like a few lifetimes already! It’s a reunion, it’s a seventh inning stretch, it’s a fun moment to step back in time and just enjoy when life was so much simpler, when music was in a different realm, life in general was different and just to go back and enjoy it for a moment; because we can. And I think the nice thing about why it took so long is it lets people know that it has nothing to do with money, it’s not about making a quick buck.

That does tend to be the default line of thinking when bands reconvene after so many years.

I was always concerned about that over the years, because every decade a new generation would come up and discover garage band rock and psychedelia; so it was always in the air. It just became a timing thing, and while we still have it and while we can still do it, let’s do it and enjoy it. And it’s proving to be fun already.

The Blues Magoos were an integral component of New York’s Greenwich Village scene back in the 60s. What do you remember about that time?

For me, it was such a special moment in time – how many people can tell you they were 17 years old with a hit record, you know? I would have paid to do it when I was 17 years old! I love when I see new generations discover the ’60s. To me it was the most amazing time in history to be in music and to be in a band. It was such an explosive time in music; you had the British Invasion, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Manfred Mann, Dave Clark Five, the Animals, the Stones, and the Beatles.

A lot has been made about the psychedelic rock tag and how you were one of the first bands to use that in a title. Do you consider Blues Magoos to be a psychedelic rock band?

You know, it’s funny, because we were so young then, so our songwriting was still developing, it started to get more melodic and edgier, but there was always a sense of fun about the band and how we never took ourselves too serious. So yeah, in some respects I do consider us being at the forefront of the time, and we were also on of very few acts to have commercial success when that genre first started. We’re definitely the pioneers of it.

The Blues Magoos big hit record was the famed single “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet.” It went to number five on the Billboard charts and became an underground anthem. Then Deep Purple lifts the track’s melody for their own top five hit, “Black Night,” and so did a bunch of other acts.

My take on it is, when you think of all the music in the world that’s ever been created, it’s comprised of just 12 notes — 12 friggin notes! It’s no wonder that you’re going to find influences in things. People just lift things and there’s an old saying I learned very young coming up as a songwriter, “If you’re going to pick — pick from the winners.” The thing is, the singer makes the song, and you gotta have a great song. I never took offense to that, I always took it as the highest compliment.

Even Kiss seemed to reference it…

I taught Ace Frehley how to play guitar, so it’s no wonder how he comes out in “Love Gun” and goes [sings the sound of the opening riff of “Love Gun”] and throws that in there a little bit. The Magoos were one of the acts that signaled to him that he could do it. He loved all the greats, Zeppelin and all that stuff, but the Blues Magoos were a little local act that came out from the same neighborhood and said to him, “Hey, if those guys can do it — I can do it!” Then [Kiss] go on to have this groundbreaking amazing career [laughs].

How did you hook up with Ace in the first place?

He got my phone number off of my mother, we lived in the same neighborhood, and he just called me up and he asked me if I would show him some stuff on guitar. So I said, “Sure man, why not?” We sat down and I showed him how to play a few bar chords and I think it just touched him some way and it changed his life.

That’s gotta feel amazing to have been a part of that.

How nice is that? Knowing that I was the seed for that career…and then I read all these things like Tom Morello and all these amazing musicians where Ace Frehley was the guy that turned them on into making them want to be a rock god. So it’s like the fish that ate the fish, you know?

One of the most interesting things about your history is you got to tour with The Who when they were on their first trip to the United States.

Well first of all, the Magoos had just had a Top 10 record, Herman’s Hermits were on the top of the bill — they had a string of hits — and The Who was just coming to establish themselves in the U.S. That tour was the entire summer of 1967, I’m still close with those guys; Peter Noonan and I saw Pete Townshend fairly recently and it was amazing.

I was a huge Who fan and I have all of these stories of trying to get out with my life in my hands hanging out with Keith Moon because he was such a stark raving maniac. I was literally the last guy on the tour to say, “Ok, I’m not going out with this guy anymore,” because it was too dangerous! He was so stark raving mad. We’d stay up all night, we’d smoke dope and talk about life in general until 3:30 on the morning – it was madness. How many people can look back on that kind of experience?

THE BLUES MAGOOS + GRASSROOT :: Thursday, May 21 @ Johnny D’s, 17 Holland St., Somerville :: 7:30 p.m., 21-plus for general admission, 10-plus for zone seating and dinner, $15 advance and $18 at doors :: Advance tickets :: Facebook event page