Neil Merryweather

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Neil Merryweather
Birth name Robert Neilson Lillie
Also known as Bobby Neilson
Neil Lillie
Born (1945-12-27) December 27, 1945 (age 71)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Origin Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Genres Rock
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Vocals, bass
Years active 1965–?
Associated acts The Just Us, The Mynah Birds, The Flying Circus, Merryweather, Mama Lion

Neil Merryweather (born Robert Neilson Lillie on December 27, 1945 in Winnipeg, Manitoba) is a Canadian rock singer, bass player and songwriter. He has recorded and performed with musicians including Steve Miller, Dave Mason, Lita Ford, Billy Joel, Rick James and Wilson Pickett, and released an extensive catalogue of albums.

The Just Us and The Tripp[edit]

Merryweather began his career in Toronto during the early 1960s performing under the name Bobby Neilson.

During 1964, he joined forces with Gary Muir & The Reflections, a local group comprising Muir (vocals), Ed Roth (organ), Bill Ross (guitar), Brian Hughes (bass) and Bob Ablack (drums). Neilson’s arrival prompted the group to part from Muir and the band briefly changed their name to The Ookpiks (after a native-designed stuffed toy owl that was being promoted by the Canadian government). As it turned out that another group was already using that name, they briefly switched to The Sikusis (after a different stuffed toy). After the Canadian government demanded payment for their name, they settled on The Just Us in early 1965.

In 1965, the group recorded its lone single, "I Don’t Love You" c/w "I Can Tell", for the local Quality Records label. (Some copies list the group as The Ookpiks, some The Sikusis, and some The Just Us.) Soon afterwards, Ross and new drummer Al Morrison left to take part in the formation of The Bossmen around singer David Clayton-Thomas.

Neilson, who now went by the name Neil Lillie, befriended ex-Mynah Birds singer Jimmy Livingston in Long and McQuade’s music store where he worked in the backroom as an amp and guitar repairman and asked him to join a new line up of The Just Us. To complete the band, Lillie recruited former C. J. Feeney & The Spellbinders members Stan Endersby on guitar and Wayne Davis on bass.

In early 1966, The Just Us recorded an album’s worth of material at Arc Sound in Toronto, with the tapes being subsequently stolen by their manager. Undeterred, the band remained a popular local draw, regularly playing at Toronto clubs like the Hawk’s Nest, the In Crowd and the Gogue Inn as well as local high schools.

In June 1966, Davis left to play with Bobby Kris & The Imperials and Lillie learned to play bass in two weeks to fill the spot. Around this time, an American duo with the same name appeared on the charts and the group was forced to adopt a new name, The Group Therapy, for its show at the Varsity Arena on June 22, supporting The Byrds. When another local group surfaced with an earlier claim to The Group Therapy name, Neil came up with the new name, The Tripp, in September 1966.

The new group never had the opportunity to record, but did appear on the first episode of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s TV show “The Sunday Show”. The band remained a regular fixture on the Toronto club scene throughout late 1966 and early 1967, They opened for the top band in Toronto The Mandela and stole the show and afterwards were approached by Mandela guitarist and friend Domenic Troiano and his manager Riff Markowitz. Riff became the Tripp's manager. One of the Tripp's most prestigious shows during this period was a performance at Maple Leaf Gardens on September 24, 1966 alongside the cream of Toronto’s rock bands.

With its more experimental approach to performance, The Tripp began to perform at more colourful venues like Boris’ Red Gas Room, the Devil's Den, the Flick and the Syndicate Club. Pianist Richard Bell from Ritchie Knight & The Mid-Knights briefly augmented the group in early 1967 but soon moved on to Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks (and years later, Janis Joplin’s backing group Full Tilt Boogie and later The Band).

Mynah Birds[edit]

Soon afterwards, Lillie left the group to take up an offer from singer Ricky James Matthews (later funk star Rick James) in a new version of The Mynah Birds. The band went to Motown studios in Detroit during August 1967 and recorded "It’s My Time", a song written by James and Neil Young during the group's previous incarnation. The project was shelved when the band fell apart.

James and Lillie returned to Toronto to find new musicians. Upon their return, Lillie recruited Marty Fisher (keyboards) and Gordie MacBain formerly of Bobbie Kris and the Imperials. While in search of a guitarist Neil ran into the drummer from Staccatos ( later to become The Five Man Electrical Band ) who told him of a guitarist named Bruce Cockburn. Neil recruited Cockburn and the band was complete. Rick was picked up by the police for a breaking and entering charge involving a Yorkville Village clothes store and was being held in jail when it was discovered that he was also a draft dodger from the US Navy. It seemed like Rick would never be free to rejoin the new Mynah Birds so the band to stay alive decided to go it alone. Neil named the band The Flying Circus (this was before the Monty Python Flying Circus was formed).

Signed to Harvey Glatt’s management, the group recorded a number of unreleased tracks in Toronto, including Cockburn’s “Flying Circus”, “She Wants To Know”, “I’m Leaving You Out” “Mother” " The Elephant Song" as well as Neil's “Last Hoorah” and Fisher and MacBain’s “Where Is All The Love”. At the same sessions, the band also recorded songs by Cockburn’s former Children cohort, Bill Hawkins, such as “Merry Go Round”, “It’s A Dirty Shame” and “Little Bit Stoned”.

During late 1967, the band played at Le Hibou in Ottawa and the Riverboat in Toronto and opened for Wilson Pickett at the Capitol Theatre in Ottawa and Massey Hall in Toronto. They also opened for two nights for Roy Orbison at the Capitol theater in Ottawa. Motown records offered them a contract, but Cockburn rejected the deal, refusing to give up song publishing royalties.

Neil was getting bored playing Cockburn's folk rock songs and longed to do a heavier form of rock. He left The Flying Circus in March 1968, and reunited with former Tripp members Ed Roth and Jimmy Livingston to form a new band. Adding ex-Fraser Loveman Group guitarist Dave Burt and drummer Gary Hall, the new group, initially dubbed New King Boiler named after the iron furnace in Neil's grandmother's basement where they rehearsed. Gary Hall drank so much coffee that he was soon being called “Coffee” by Neil's grandmother; the name stuck, though he chose to spell it “Coffi”. The band got three demos together with the help of an engineer friend at Arc recording studio. Friend Bruce Palmer (former bassist for The Mynah Birds and now playing in LA with the Buffalo Springfield) was in Toronto and sold the band on going to LA the way that he and Neil Young had done the years before, they decided to pile into a car and just drive to La La Land.

Merryweather and subsequent recording career[edit]

The band adopted the name Heather Merryweather after the title of one of the songs they recorded with lyrics by band friend, June Nelson. Nelson was Mo Ostin's secretary at Warner Bros. Records for many years. She was also responsible for pushing the band to go to LA. After they arrived in the summer of '68 the boys in the band were welcomed into the home of Linda Stevens in Topanga Canyon. Stevens was a folk singer and songwriter and friend of the Buffalo Springfield. She offered not only a place to stay but allowed the band to rehearse in the house. Heather Merryweather's first gig was to be at the legendary Topanga Coral but the night before they were to play the Coral burned down. The Coral owners quickly rented a store on Ventura Blvd and opened the new club as Big Pink. Heather Merryweather were the first band to play the club. During their performances the band noticed that Jimmy Livingston seemed to change and his performance fell short of what was expected. Jimmy chose to party rather than play and the band and him parted ways. Neil took over the vocals and began writing new material. Heather Merryweather soon found themselves sharing the bill with Chicago Transit Authority at the Whiskey in Hollywood. From that performance they were signed by the new A&R rep John Gross. Gross became the band producer. The band decided to shorten their name to Merryweather after the album was completed. Neil was at Capitol Records one day to oversee the final cover art and ran into Linda Ronstadt. Both being newly signed to Capitol they began a chat while sitting on the front steps of the Capitol Tower. Neil told her about the band and she was excited about her Capitol deal and was waiting to meet up with her Stone Poney's producer Nick Venet. when Nick arrived she jumped up and turned to Neil and said "it was great meeting you Neil Merryweather"! Neil liking what Linda had called him immediately ran back upstairs to see the album's cover designer Robert Lockart and had the name Neil Merryweather added to the album credits. Neil legally changed his name and began a long recording career as Neil Merryweather.

Merryweather's second album, Word of Mouth (released in September 1969), was a double-album of extemporaneous songs recorded in Los Angeles featuring the band jamming with numerous guests, such as Steve Miller, Barry Goldberg, Charlie Musselwhite, ex-Traffic guitarist Dave Mason, Howard Roberts and Bobby Notkoff. Although the album was reasonably successful, the group fragmented, with Neil quitting after a dispute. Neil ran into his old friend Rick James and told him if he wanted them he had a ready made band in Burt, Hall and Roth. Rick James recruited the guys and started the band Salt 'N' Pepper. Prior to the break, Merryweather turned down an offer from Stephen Stills to join Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as bass player. Neil and Stephen had jammed at Stephens house in Topanga Canyon in the past and spent a day hanging out together.

Merryweather flew back to Toronto to recruit replacements, then returned with them to record the album Neil Merryweather John Richardson and Boers for the blues label Kent in early 1970. The resulting album, credited to Merryweather, ex-The Ugly Ducklings drummer Robin Boers, guitarist John Richardson from Nucleus (and before that Lords of London), and ex-49th Parallel member JJ Velker attracted only limited interest. Merryweather agreed to do the album for the money to support the new band. They did a follow-up album for RCA, Ivar Avenue Reunion, featuring the same basic group plus Goldberg, Musselwhite and Merryweather's new girlfriend, ex-CK Strong singer Lynn Carey. The duet of Merryweather and Carey impressed the A&R department and RCA signed the duo as Merryweather and Carey.

Neil Merryweather and Lynn Carey, along with guitarist Kal David and former Merryweather bandmates Roth and Hall, recorded the Vacuum Cleaner LP for RCA in 1971. Two tracks that were recorded at Kent Records under the name "Mama & Pappa Rock 'n' Company were bought by RCA and found their way on the Merryweather and Carey "Vacuum Cleaner" album. Neil was not happy with RCA firing the A&R staff that signed them and found the replacement staff to be weak and he left with the idea to form a new group with Lynn out front. Neil recruited Coffi Hall as drummer and found guitarist Rick Gaxiola and keyboardist James Newton Howard. Merryweather had put together a new hard rock band which he named Mama Lion in 1972, featuring Carey on lead vocals. He produced a demo recording at Paramount studio and played it for some friends and it caught the ear of Ken Mansfield. Ken Mansfield became the new band's manager and within a week sold the band to Artie Ripp's new Family Productions label which was a new affiliate of Famous Music. The band recorded two albums, Preserve Wildlife (which featured Neil's idea of a controversial photo of Carey appearing to nurse a tiger cub) in 1972 and Give It Everything I've Got in 1973. Merryweather also recorded with the Mama Lion lineup sans Carey, with the band calling itself Heavy Cruiser. They released two albums in 1972, the eponymous Heavy Cruiser and its followup, Lucky Dog. The band was offered a management contract with Shep Gordon and was booked to open for Alice Cooper on his upcoming world tour. Ripp scuttled the deal by quickly stealing the management. The Alice Cooper tour was lost and the beginning of the end for the band started from that day on. After a few small tours of small clubs was arranged by Ripp's management Mama Lion wound up in Europe where a series of events due to bad management and internal disputes caused Neil to let guitarist Rick Gaxiola go. He replaced Rick with Alan Hertzberg from Billy Joel's band. Neil produced the second Mama Lion album "Give It Every Thing We Got" starting it in New York and finishing it in Los Angeles. The internal friction in the band partly caused Lynn Carey's substance abuse and Ripp's constantly saying that she was Mama Lion and not the band. Neil saw the band Mama Lion coming apart and after finishing the production of the album he quit. The double album that he produced was cut down to a single album and the title was changed to "Give It Everything I Got". The cover featured Lynn Carey alone with not a band member anywhere. Ripp and Carey achieved what they wanted and the band was sent back to Europe for another string of weak tour dates. The band broke up in Paris and the band members left, leaving Lynn Carey there to pick up the pieces. What Neil saw would happen came to a bitter end.

Neil continued recording demos of his new songs with various members of Mama Lion. Neil invited friend and fellow label artist Billy Joel to the studio to play on some songs. At the time Joel was performing in a downtown Los Angeles bar under the name Bill Martin in an effort to continue playing live, while hiding from Ripp and his label. On the second of two nights that Joel joined Neil in the studio they recorded Joel's "Piano Man" for the first time. Neil gave Joel the tape of the recording and it was used the next day to get Billy his recording contract with Columbia Records.

In 1974 Merryweather put a new band together called Space Rangers. Through friend Morey Lathower (VP of A&R at Capitol) he was able to secure time at Capitol Records studios and in two nights he recorded the Space Rangers' first album. Neil used whatever funds he had left after the Mama Lion years and supported the new band until the money ran out. Unfortunately so did the band's keyboardist and guitarist. Neil's Mama Lion road manager Robbie Randal stuck with Neil and took the tape of the Space Rangers record into the office of Chip Taylor (Canned Heat). When the album was played Chip's brother Jim Taylor heard the new sound and offered to manage Neil. Taylor got a deal with Mercury Records and Neil was signed. Original Space Rangers drummer Tim McGovern remained loyal to the band and Neil hired keyboardist/guitarist Jamie Herndon and lead guitarist Michael Willis and the new band was ready to go. Neil bought a Chamberlin keyboard from Sonny and Cher. The Chamberlin was a key to the Space Rangers sound. The band was booked into the Whiskey when the Space Rangers album was released (1974). The album went to the #5 most added on radio airplay chart in two weeks. The label did nothing to support the album or the band. Six months later the small advance Neil got for Space Rangers was all but gone and in desperation to keep the band together Neil took the band into Village Recorders and in five days wrote all the songs, recorded and produced his second album for Mercury called Kryptonite. The label bought the album and it was released in 1975. The label still did not do anything to help the band or push the albums. Neil disbanded the Space Rangers due to lack of support and to weak management. The Space Rangers and Kryptonite albums received the highest praise from critics worldwide and Kryptonite was voted into the top five Psych Rock albums of the Seventies in an internet poll. Notable cuts included a cosmic psych rock version of The Byrds' "Eight Miles High" and the David Bowie-inspired single "Hollywood Boulevard," as well as the blistering autobiographical rocker "The Groove" . The albums continue to gain a cult following to this day.

Merryweather produced two singles for a three girl singing trio he called "Band of Angels", one on Mums Records and one on Midland International. He did three albums at Sound City, "The Hollywood Stars , solo artist Kyle and his own album. Neil recruited Mike Willis and a bunch of his musician friends to record his new album with the help of engineer Mark Smith (BTO) at the controls. Neil then went to London England. Ann Munday, the head of Chrysalis Music Publishing signed Neil to a publishing deal upon hearing the Sound City recordings. It was through the Chrysalis Music deal that Dereco Records in Amsterdam heard Neil's Sound City recordings and signed Neil to a record deal to release the album. Neil named the album "Differences" due to the variety of writing styles it featured. Dureco asked Neil to produce a slew of Dutch bands that were signed to them. One band was called Carlsberg. Neil produced the Carlsberg album and it did well locally in the Netherlands. His deal with Dureco was to include a new Neil Merryweather album. While Neil recorded new demos for Chrysalis in London he found musicians Dave Sinclair (Matching Mole and Camel keyboardist) and Clive Edwards (UFO and Wild Horses drummer) and guitarist Taff William (Bonnie Tyler and Eyes of Blue). Neil ran into Jethro Tull's road manager at Chrysalis and he told him of a great new studio in Miami. Neil called the studio and made arrangements to take his new group there to record the new album. Dureco refused to pay the bill to fly Dave Sinclair's custom Hammond to Miami. Dave wouldn't record without his personal gear so he was replaced by Roy Shipston a friend of Clive Edwards. That was just the beginning of the Dureco Records situation as Neil was informed his budget was reduced by half when he arrived in Miami with the band. A week of sessions produced some fine recordings but only one song found its way onto the "Differences" album just before it was released. The other songs were only on a Dureco sampler. Neil turned to Cees Wessels the ex-head of Phonogram Holland. Cees was a huge fan of the Space Rangers and now was the new head of RCA in Amsterdam. Neil met Cees for coffee and they inked a deal for Neil to sign with RCA. Neil flew Mike Willis from the Space Rangers over to Amsterdam and they recruited Kees Meerman, the drummer from Herman Brood's Wild Romance and Ken Spence, a saxman from Nina Hagen's big band. Neil called the band Eyes and the album "Radical Genes" was recorded. The band played locally around Amsterdam and they performed at the Hell's Angels Jamboree, but folded soon after due to friction between band members. Neil decided to return to LA.

Upon his return to LA Neil found old Krytonite keyboard/guitarist Jamie Herndon. Through some Space Rangers fans he found drummer Dusty Watson. Neil took them into the studio and he wrote and recorded ten new songs in a few nights. Dusty had joined the newly formed Lita Ford Band and the bassist Ray Marzano asked Neil if he would consider managing the band. Neil had written two songs on the "Differences" album that Chrysalis music had sent to The Runaways manager Toby Mamis the year before. The songs were being rehearsed by The Runaways for their new album being produced by John Alcock (Thin Lizzy). The Runaways had broken up during the rehearsals and Lita had gone solo. Neil met with Lita and they became friends and on a handshake made a deal together. Neil got equipment endorsement deals for the band and a production deal with Fidelity Studios which included monetary support. Neil took the band into the studio and began producing tracks. He used his friendship with Russ Regan at Polygram to help negotiate a deal with the label and Lita. Neil secured a two album guaranteed deal and $300,000 for Lita with Polygram. During the recording sessions Lita fired Ray Marzano and asked Neil to play the bass on the album. The combination of Neil and Dusty was a super rhythm section for Lita's heavy guitar. Neil co-wrote four of the songs on the album including the title song "Out For Blood". Neil did everything he promised Lita he would do and the album was set for release. Neil wanted a better management situation for Lita and Shep Gordon was brought in to take over. To Neil's disbelief Lita rejected him. A manager named Alan Kovacs was then suggested by some people including the label's lawyer. Neil was never paid for his management or for the production of the "Out For Blood" album and was burned by Lita Ford and her new management. Neil had had enough of the music business and after a brief time trying to help Cees Wessels and his newly formed Roadrunner Records sign some LA metal bands, he quit. The Lita Ford betrayal was the last straw. Neil met and married Victoria Jane Zale. For a while Neil became a photographer and a model builder for the City Of Los Angeles Bureau Engineering under the title "Creative Resources" for Harris and Company, a consulting firm where his wife Victoria managed the West Coast office.

When the computer age began to emerge Neil's wife Victoria encouraged him to make music again especially after finding pages of albums and history on the internet. She helped him build a studio in their house. Neil hooked up with Jamie Herndon {guitarist/keyboardist} and Dusty Watson {drums} and they picked up where they had left off before the Lita Ford fiasco. Neil was hired by Dic Entertainment to write and produce songs for two kids TV shows "Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad" {ABC} and "Tattooed Teenaged Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills" {USA}.

Neil and Jamie wrote and produced forty eight songs in a month's time for those shows. Jamie, Neil and Dusty recorded two albums "Hundred Watt Head" and "The La La Land Blues Band" together and continue recording to this day with Jamie and Dusty and Hundred Watt Head. The first Hundred Watt Head album is on iTunes on Ruth McCartney's iFanz label. Ruth's McCartney's Multimedia also designed Neil's website theneilmerryweather.com

In 2015 Neil made a guest appearance on the "Volume Three" album by Janne Stark's Mountain of Power (band). Neil lent his voice to the tracks "Hey Serena/Wheel Of Fortune Turning". On the album Janne also covered Neil's songs "Give It Everything We Got/Kryptonite". The album was released on Grooveyard Records [1]. This spawned further collaboration between Neil and Janne and in 2016 they started working on an album under the name Merryweather Stark . The release is set to late 2017. [2]

Neil now resides in his Las Vegas home and continues to write and record songs in his Magicbox recording studio. He has also begun painting and has five paintings currently on display at Las Vegas City Hall.

Discography[edit]

Sources[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.grooveyardrecords.com/mountainofpowervolumethree.html
  2. ^ http://jannestark.com/mymusic/merryweather%20stark/merryweather%20stark-biography.html