Strawberry Studios

by Dave Thompson

Late in 1969, Kasenetz-Katz approached English songsmith Graham Gouldman with the offer of working for them. Gouldman was, after all, one of Britain’s most accomplished hitmakers, the name behind a string of hits by the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, Herman’s Hermits, the Hollies… even Cher had recorded a Graham Gouldman number.

Over the last couple of years, though, Gouldman’s pen had fallen on hard times. His own attempts to break into the bubblegum market, first through the Graham Gouldman Orchestra’s lightweight versions of his own greatest hits, then via one-time chart heroes the Mindbenders, had signally failed to take off; and with the bulk of Gouldman’s income being plowed into the studios he was opening with fellow ‘bender Eric Stewart, Kasenetz-Katz’s offer came just at the right time.
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In return for a generous advance, the deal didn

Chewing the Bubblegum with Joey Levine

interview by Keith Bearden from WFMU’s LCD issue #22

If you’ve listened to the radio or watched TV semi-regularly over the past 30 years, you’ve surely heard the work of Joey Levine. He was one of the main songwriters behind the Bubblegum Rock movement of the late 60’s, and his nasally, teen-sounding voice was perfect for rockin’ hits by The Ohio Express (“Chewy, Chewy,” “Yummy, Yummy”) and The Katsentz-Katz Super Circus (“Quick Joey Small”). Fans of the Nuggets LP will know him as the leader of The Third Rail (“Run, Run, Run”), a more “adult” version of the studio musician “bands” that Joey staffed under Buddha Records producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz. And who over the age of 30 doesn’t remember being delighted/horrified by Reunion’s “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)?” Or getting the munchies listening to the immortal “Trust The Gorton’s Fisher-man” jingle for Gorton’s Breaded Fish Sticks? Once again, the work of the busy Levine.

While the Bubblegum Rock movement has been critically lambasted for 30 years, its importance is undeniable. At a time in the 60’s when Merseybeat and garage bands had broken up or turned hippie, pre-fab studio groups like The Monkees, The Archies, The 1910 Fruitgum Company (“Simon Says”) and The Ohio Express created many beautifully crafted songs, carrying the torch of pure, simple pop/rock into the 70’s, where it was picked up by bands like The Raspberries, The Shoes and The Rubinoos, or in the UK got dressed up by The Sweet and other glam rockers. Later, punk bands like Funhouse, Slaughter & The Dogs and Joan Jett all paid a debt to their three-chord Bubblegum forebearers by covering some of Levine’s handiwork.

Getting involved in commercial jingles in the 70’s, native New Yorker Levine still works in the field, and currently heads up three music companies, Crushing Music, Crushing Underground and Levine & Company.
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LCD: What’s your background as a musician?

LEVINE: My dad Elli Levine was a band leader in the Army and a jazz pianist under the name Elden Lewis, and my mother Marion Kingsley was a singer who had her own radio show in NYC when she was 16 years old. My uncle Alan Stanton was a record producer at Columbia and A&M. I took piano and guitar, and did the whole teenage band kind of things. My first band was Joey Vine & The Grapes, I was in The Pastels, playing country clubs and synagogues and sweet 16 parties…

LCD: How did you get involved with the whole NYC Bubblegum rock scene?

LEVINE: I had been working in music publishing for a couple years over at TM Music, writing songs after school, where I met a songwriter named Artie Resnick, who had written ‘Under The Boardwalk.’ We really collaborated well, and were getting success off of some demos we were cutting. Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz had heard a song I wrote called ‘Try It’ that The Standells had a kinda mini-hit underground thing that people were digging on, and then they recorded it with The Ohio Express after ‘Beg Borrow & Steal.’ They called me and said, ‘We’ve been hearing your demos and this and that and we think you can write some of this teenybopper music,’ and then Artie & I wrote ‘Yummy Yummy.’

LCD: How old were you when this was all happening

LEVINE: Just about 17.

LCD: Wow. How was it working for Katsentz/Katz? Was it a hit factory or did you have a lot of creative freedom?

LEVINE: Well, it was a factory in that there were a couple of different bands that we used-a lot of times it would be the same band-and we had a day to record and a day to do overdubs and mix. Also, when Jeff and Jerry thought a song was a hit and it didn’t fly, they’d have other bands record it again, slightly different. They’d have The Ohio Express do it, then The Shadows of Knight, then The Fruitgum Company, on and on. So you’d work all week, and in-between you’d write more songs.

LCD: Were the Ohio Express and 1910 Fruitgum Company real bands? Did they tour?

LEVINE: They were all real bands, but I sang on a lot of their records. Neil Bogart [Buddha Records President and the man who later gave the world KISS & Donna Summer] heard my demo of ‘Yummy Yummy’ and said ‘Have this guy sing on the records.’

LCD: That’s why on the Ohio Express albums you have the hits with you singing and then the other tracks sound like bad Procol Harum rip-offs.

LEVINE: Yeah. When the bands would tour I’d stay in New York and these guys would schlep out around the country singing my songs, though they didn’t sound like me.

LCD: What are your memories of those days?

LEVINE: It was great. I had Top 10 records, my voice was all over the radio, but nobody knew who I was unless I wanted them to. The best kind of fame. It got me into a lot more parties at school, for sure.

LCD: Studio songwriters produced some of the best pop songs of the 60’s. Name some songs you and Artie Resnick wrote from back then.

LEVINE: Oh, God, so many. Besides all The Ohio Express stuff, we wrote some stuff for The 1910 Fruitgum Company, me and Bobbie Blum and Bo Gentry and Richie Cordell. ‘Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’,’ Tommy James stuff like ‘Mony Mony,’ ‘Montego Bay,’ lots of stuff. You lost track you worked so much, and a lot of times we co-wrote and never gave each other credit. I also wrote stuff for Gene Pitney with Doc Pomus.

LCD: A lot of people interpret songs like “Yummy Yummy” and “Chewy Chewy” as being slyly sexual. Was that your intent?

LEVINE: Absolutely. We were told to write these innocent songs, keep it young and poppy, but we were all in our late teens so we wanted to slide some double entendres past ’em if we could. Eating was our big thing.

LCD: The Ramones have mentioned numerous times that they started out wanting to sound like The Ohio Express. How does it feel to be a godfather of Punk?

LEVINE: [Buddha Records publicist/New York Dolls manager] Marty Thau was producing some punk bands back in the 70’s, and he said ‘You should produce this stuff-all these guys mention your records.’ To tell you the truth, even though in the 60s we were all in our own funky state, meeting these bands-I just couldn’t deal. It was too weird for me.

LCD: Why do you think critics trash the whole bubblegum scene?

LEVINE: Well, the music’s a little contrite. It was just played for fun, and it was a period of time that was very serious. People were looking for big, heavy themes-drugs, war, revolution – and it looked very thin under those criteria. Bubblegum to me was making fun of all that. Basically it was like, ‘We get the serious issues – so why not smile and dance and goof around?’

LCD: Tell me about Third Rail.

LEVINE: The Third Rail I did before I was in The Ohio Express. I was 16 or 17. It was me, Artie and Kris Resnick, some of the earliest songs we wrote that we recorded together just as songwriters. Very political, more all over the map musically. Teddy Cooper over at Epic heard the stuff we were recording and said, ‘Let’s do an album.’ It just got re-released on CD in Britain.

LCD: The internet says you co-wrote stuff with Jim Carroll. Huh?

LEVINE: That’s my friend Jim Carroll. Not the Basketball Diaries junkie poet guy.

LCD: OK. (sigh) Tell me about “Life is a Rock but the Radio Rolled Me”?

LEVINE: That song is imitated a lot I think, by people like REM, with ‘The End of The World’ and Billy Joel with ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire.’ Not directly, but a lot of songs are based on people’s memory of our song. Some guy called me and said [affects dunderhead accent]’I think that’s the first rap record!’ And I said, ‘I don’t know about that.’ And he said, ‘Well, before that you had country rap, and story raps, but just rhythmic rhyming of words flowing together, that was the first!’ So I said, ‘Look, I’m the father of bubblegum-don’t make me the father of rap. Somebody will put me on a hit list.’

LCD: You work exclusively in commercials now. Do you miss writing songs about love as opposed to tampons or fish sticks?

LEVINE: I have never written a song about tampons.


LEVINE: The jingle thing is just cleaner, more honest. You write the song, you record it, people hear it, less politics, less rip-offs, the pay is good. No muss, no fuss. I still wrote songs. I write songs for my wife or my kids, but now it’s all fun. No headaches and ulcers wondering about having a hit or not.

LCD: What are some of your commercial songwriting credits?

LEVINE: ‘Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut’ for Peter Paul/Mounds, (singing) ‘Oh, What A Feeling to Drive-TOY-OTA!,’ ‘Can’t Beat The Feeling’ for Coca-Cola, ‘The Softer Side of Sears,’ Diet Coke, ‘Just For The Taste of It’…

LCD: God. People will carry those jingles with them to their graves. With your pop songs and TV, how does it feel to be so deep in the public consciousness?

LEVINE: Ah, I feel good about it. I feel lucky to be able to do what I do for so long.

LCD: Tell me something people might not guess about Joey Levine?

LEVINE: I always thought of myself as a soul singer.

Will the Real Ohio Express Please Stand Up?

Will the Real Ohio Express Please Stand Up?
by Becky Ebenkamp

Dean Kastran and Joey Levine never performed side by side on a stage, nor have they ever recorded a song together. Yet simultaneously throughout the late 1960s, both were members of same band, and each could claim some responsibility for its success: Dean as the face, a good-looking kid in a Midwestern rock group lured into a contract by the Super K Productions team, photographed for record covers and then shanghaied into a life of nonstop touring. And Joey as the studio whiz kid, songwriter, and famous, distinctive voice of

The Lemon Pipers

The Lemon Pipers
by Gary Pig Gold

The Lemon Pipers are a perfect example of a band confidently launched atop, quickly constrained within, then ultimately torpedoed by that deceptively friendly tag we call “bubblegum.” Although their one and a half hits continue to highlight Super K-stuffed compilations the world over (and rightfully so), many of this same band

1910 Fruitgum Co. Liner Notes

Click to purchase The Best Of The 1910 Fruitgum Company

THE 1910 FRUITGUM CO. by Kim Cooper

A thick pink strain of bubblegum music came oozing out of the world’s AM radios between 1967 and 1969, giving little kids something to pound their Mickey Mouse spoons about, and making critics groan. If you followed it back to the source you’d find New York City, and the studios rented by independent producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz. Under their supervision a revolving crew of bands, session players and writers knocked out giddy pop songs that mixed garage band riffs and nursery school rhyme schemes with deliciously catchy results.

By late 1967, Kasenetz and Katz were anxiously seeking hitmaking bands that could be paired up with writers in their Super K Productions stable. They’d already mined the teen clubs of central Ohio to come up with the Music Explosion, Ohio Express (originally Sir Timothy & the Royals) and Lemon Pipers (Ivan & the Sabres), but their next discovery would be found much closer to home.

Supposedly Jeff Katz’ dad met several members of Jeckell & the Hydes (previously known as the Lower Road, and the Odyssey) in a Linden, New Jersey diner, and passed their number along to his son; later, the producers heard them play at a house party. Kasenetz and Katz flipped over Mark Gutkowski’s boyish voice, and quickly signed the band to a production contract. With a little work, they’d become the third act in the mega-selling Buddah bubblegum triumvirate that included the Ohio Express and Lemon Pipers.

Of course that retro garage band name had to go, and “1910 Fruitgum Co.” fit right in with the other sugary Kasenetz and Katz confections. PR legend has it that rhythm guitarist Jeckell named the Fruitgums from an old gum wrapper found either in a suit pocket or an attic trunk (possibly both).

The 1910 Fruitgum Co. had their first hit with the immortal “Simon Says,” a song K&K had been trying to place for some time. The kindergarten game lyrics set to a chugging garage rock organ riff set the stage for much of their future activity. They quickly established themselves as the most childlike of the bubblegum bands, their singles filled with babyish games and infantile alliteration. Album tracks revealed more adult themes, sometimes disturbingly fused with references to a loved one’s yummy candy sweetness. With these guys, you never knew if they were about to kiss a girl or take a bite!

But even the singles were more suggestive than they appeared on first glance. The lyrics of “1-2-3 Red Light” are less a schoolyard game than the sound of a boy wearing down his sweetie’s resistance through constant begging, with the threat of a break up if she doesn’t put out.

Every time I try to prove my love
1-2-3 Red Light, you stop me…
If you stop me again
That’s when we might end
So please don’t refuse

And in the sorta-psychedelic “1910 Cotton Candy Castle,” the promise of candy seems to carry a distinctly phallic subtext when Mark croons: “Here comes the Lollipop Man in his goody ship Lollipop/ all aboard for lollipop land where the lovin’ never stops.”

For their first few (most bubblegummy) albums, the 1910 Fruitgum Co. was officially made up of the old Jeckell & the Hydes lineup. This was Mark Gutkowski (vocals/ organ), Frank Jeckell (vocals/ rhythm guitar), Floyd Marcus (vocals/ drums), Steve Mortkowitz (bass) and Pat Karwan (vocals/ lead guitar). But sidemen were always being called in to play on K&K productions, and there’s some controversy about who played on what. An intermediate lineup was Gutkowski with Chuck Travis (vocals/ lead guitar), Larry Ripley (vocals/ bass/ horn), Bruce Shay (vocals/ percussion), and Rusty Oppenheimer (vocals/ drums). Less than two years on, the hard rocking Hard Ride was the work of Jimmy Casazza (vocals/ drums/ percussion), Ralph Cohen (trumpet), Jerry Roth (vocals/ sax/ clarinet/ flute), Don Christopher (vocals/ guitar), Richie Gomez (vocals/ guitar) and Pat Soriano (vocals/ organ/ piano). Since K&K owned the band name, anyone they wanted could “be” the 1910 Fruitgum Co.

Mark Gutkowski’s singing was the constant on most things released under the 1910 Fruitgum Co. name, but their #5 hit “1, 2, 3 Red Light” was supposedly Gutkowski backed by Vinnie Poncia, Pete Anders and guys from the touring version of session group the Tradewinds (“New York’s a Lonely Town”)-while other sources claim that Gutkowski wasn’t present at all, and the vocals for this song and “Goody Goody Gumdrops” were by “Gumdrops” co-writer Billy Carl.

Personnel matters aside, whoever the 1910 Fruitgum Co. were, they made monster bubblegum records throughout their short career, and the kids loved them. A vintage press release offers the tantalizing claim that their fans threw so much bubblegum (chewed and otherwise) during performances, that a little man had to sweep it up after every show. We also learn a thing or two about the original band members. Frank Jeckell (21) is the oldest, and the one who makes sure the others behave. He digs country music and golf. Pat Karwan (19) surfs, hates diets and airplanes, and chews a lot of gum. He sometimes uses the pen name Scaramuche Quackenbush. Mark Gutkowski (18) likes girls, steak and onions and sheepskin rugs, and hates barbershops and oatmeal. Steve Martkowitz (19) studied art in Paris, and is the silent type. Floyd Marcus (19) is always late, wants to be a great songwriter, hates shredded coconut and likes girls and sports car racing. Such nice boys.

“Indian Giver,” recorded with the middle Fruitgum lineup, proved to be the final Top 10 bubblegum smash for Buddah, first charting in January 1969. The song gives no sign that the power of bubblegum music was diminishing, and that hypnotic tom-tom beat can still stir the blood of tykes and their elders to this day. Master gumsters Bobby Bloom, Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell wrote this politically insensitive gem, while Bloom and Gentry wrote the Fruitgum’s final charting hit, “Special Delivery,” and produced both with Cordell.

Like most fads, bubblegum faded out after two years, but the Fruitgum Co. wasn’t quite ready to call it quits. Kasenetz and Katz gleefully told Roctober magazine’s James Porter that the final version of the band nearly got a plum gig at the Fillmore East, a hall far too hip to stoop to booking has-been bubblegummers. But an unlabeled test pressing of the heavier Hard Ride album impressed a booker sufficiently that a show was briefly offered, then immediately retracted when the ruse was revealed.

With that, the 1910 Fruitgum Co. retired, never to be seen again.

Thanks to Carl Cafarelli, Bill Holmes and James Porter.

Best of the Lemon Pipers liner notes

Click to purchase The Best Of The 1910 Fruitgum Company


Bubblegum music was largely the brainchild of producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, with more than a little marketing help from youthful Buddah Records general manager Neil Bogart. The core of the sound was basic American garage rock, two parts “Louie Louie” to one part “96 Tears.” But the lyrics took a giant step backwards, avoiding teenage concerns (girl trouble, mean bosses, bad luck) in favor of the defiantly infantile (sugar-drenched oral gratification, nursery rhymes). It was a style just waiting to explode onto the charts, pushed by a preteen rock audience enjoying their first brush with the thrills of a weekly allowance.

So when in 1967 bubblegum kings Kasenetz and Katz needed a new band for their Super K Productions stable, they knew exactly where to look: central Ohio, which had already provided them with fine raw garage band material in the Music Explosion (which hit with “Little Bit Of Soul” for Laurie Records) and the Ohio Express.

In Oxford, OH they found Ivan & the Sabres, a somewhat progressive Miami University band that was willing to change their name to the Lemon Pipers and follow K&K back to New York City. It was a smart move. Within six months they’d have the #1 record on the pop charts, “Green Tambourine,” just one of many Paul Leka (music)/ Shelley Pinz (lyrics) compositions they’d record.

The Lemon Pipers probably didn’t realize it at first, but Kasenetz and Katz expected that they’d have hits, by any means necessary. If they could knock out a terrific bubblegum single on their own, that was great, but the psychedelic, Byrdsy rock they favored was going to end up as album tracks, if it was released at all.

Nevertheless, the Lemon Pipers would prove the most psychedelic of the so-called bubblegum bands recording for Buddah, as well as the only one that is generally accepted to have played on all their own records. As their producer and main writer, Paul Leka gave them playfully far-out numbers that made use of elaborate orchestration and charmingly simplistic lyrics full of alliteration and fanciful pairings. The result: two of the more cohesive bubblegum albums ever made, and a pair of minor hits to follow the one smash.

The band didn’t think much of “Green Tambourine” on first hearing, and initially refused to record it. A gentle warning from Bogart that they’d do just that if they wanted to stay on Buddah was sufficient to coax out a fine performance. It would be the first Buddah bubblegum single to top the charts.

The Green Tambourine album shows the Pipers in a whimsical Beatlesque vein, dodging Liberace piano trills and raga riffs as they sang about how rice was nice on one’s wedding day, as was living in love’s world of blueberry blue. Leka’s arrangements are dense without heaviness, witty and enjoyable. It’s lightweight orchestral pop fun.

But kids who stuck around till the last track on side two were in for a big surprise. “Through With You” was a 8 1/2 minute garage rock rave up with a great propulsive energy and a mind-expanding, channel-hopping Byrdsy solo leading into an eerie section that’s like a psychedelic whale song, sounding like another band entirely. The same can be said for their first single, another Bartlett original reprised on the album. “Turn Around Take a Look,” is a deceptively simple little tune about stalking, with an insidious hook.

Somewhere between these two sounds was the real Lemon Pipers. You can see why the band was skeptical about becoming a musical mouthpiece for K&K, Bogart and Leka. While “Turn Around” could have been recorded by a number of groups, there weren’t too many that could explore spacerock dimensions and keep a listener’s interest for almost ten minutes. But eight-minute songs don’t sell many singles, so the Pipers’ progressive ambitions were kept carefully in check throughout much of the band’s life.

So who were these Lemon Pipers? Vintage 1968 press releases and liner notes offer some peculiar clues. We learn that 20-year-old singer and rhythm guitarist Ivan Browne digs motorbikes, weird clothes and climbing trees, and lives in a belltower, which helps him get up in the morning. Bill Bartlett (21), lead guitar, from South Harrow, Middlesex, UK, is a senior in the fine arts department, digs Ravi Shankar and aluminum foil, and claims to have seven pet cats –quite an accomplishment for someone in a hit touring band. Organist R.G. “Reg” Nave (22) enjoys SCUBA and skydiving, preferably at the same time. New Zealand-born Steve Walmsley (18) plays bass, and is a poet who likes to catch passing freight cars, with or without trains attached. Drummer Bill Albaugh (18) got himself a pilot’s license for kicks.

The first album reveals an apparent obsession with footwear. “Shoeshine Boy” has an interesting double tracked vocal, and a mournful “Penny Lane” quality. “The Shoemaker of Leatherware Square” is spookily medieval, and quite an odd subject for a pop song. Add these to frothy singles like “Rice is Nice,” “Blueberry Blue,” and of course “Green Tambourine” and you have a strange trip through a psychedelic fantasy land where life is simpler, more sugary, and ones’ shoes look nice.

Album two, Jungle Marmalade, shows the Pipers slipping deeper into demented metaphor with highly entertaining results. The album’s hit (stalling at #51) was Leka and Pinz’ “Jelly Jungle (of Orange Marmalade),” in which the Pipers made a rare attempt at matching the lyrical double entendres practiced by their Buddah colleagues the Ohio Express and 1910 Fruitgum Co. Over an infectious riff the group entices you to “take a trip on my pogo stick/ bounce up and down/ do a trick/ I’ll play a beat on your pumpkin drum/ and we’ll have fun in the sun.” And check out the tongue-in-cheek tribute to enlightenment, “Love Beads and Meditation,” where the singer intones “the tangled mass of membranes that used to be me/ is a memory!” Moving away from orchestration, a countryish side ias revealed on “Catch Me Falling” and on a fine cover of Goffin-King’s “I Was Not Born To Follow.” “Wine and Violet” is cool apocalyptic psych with a freaky backwards tape section, and the 11:52 “Dead End Street/ Half Light” closes the record with some heavy psych slipping into spaced-out reverie.

A lack of chart action seems to have spelled the end for the Lemon Pipers, and the name was retired following album #2. But guitarist Bill Bartlett stayed in touch with Kasenetz and Katz, and his band Autumn again recorded for Buddah in ’73. Four years later, as a member of Ram Jam, he brought K&K a countryish cover of Leadbelly’s “Black Betty” that had earned some minor local airplay. K&K re-recorded it in a rock arrangement and saw it reach the Top 20.

Thanks to Gary Pig Gold and James Porter.

Best of the Ohio Express liner notes

Click to purchase The Best Of Ohio Express


The Ohio Express are the quintessential non-animated American bubblegum band but if their story weren’t so well documented, you’d swear it was a tall tale dreamed up by a drunken record collector.

It’s hard to talk about “The Ohio Express” without confusion, because the name refers both to a touring band based in Ohio, and a studio concoction out of New York City. While both Ohio Expresses contributed to the group’s albums, the East Coast version had most of the hits and were responsible for their signature sound. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The story begins with a perfectly good mid-American high school garage band, popular at teen dances and occasionally pegged to open for national acts like the Turtles. That was Sir Timothy & the Royals, the pride of Mansfield, Ohio. The leader was Tim Corwin (drums), and the Royals were Dale Powers (lead guitar), Doug Grassel (rhythm guitar), Jim Pfahler (organ) and Dean Kastran (bass).

Sir Tim and the boys might have ended up with a song or two on a Pebbles comp had producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz not shown up one day circa 1967, inspired by the Music Explosion’s success with “Little Bit Of Soul” to check out another promising Ohio combo. The underage band was quickly signed to a production contract, and rechristened the Ohio Express, because the producers felt their name sounded too English.

Kasenetz and Katz were fast moving pros whose specialty was making hit records and licensing them to labels. They picked up the Royals because they heard something lucrative in their sound-but who knew how long it might take these kids to write a hit of their own? K&K happened to already have a great song, not so loosely based on “Louie Louie,” that had been a minor hit when released by the Rare Breed on the Attack label. That group reportedly didn’t want to be musical puppets, and declined to work further with K&K. So “Beg, Borrow & Steal” was re-pressed with the Ohio Express name on the label, and it hit the top 40. This opened the door for more Ohio Express releases, but didn’t bode well for any hopes of creative autonomy the band may have had.

With the group headquartered 500 miles from New York, even with frequent visits Tim’s boys never got a chance to be fully in the loop. Their producers searched out songs for the Ohio Express; if it wasn’t convenient for the group to record them, studio musicians would instead. It was around this time that K&K decided to rework the banned Standells single “Try It” as an Ohio Express song. This fairly innocent anthem to sexual experimentation was penned by “Under the Boardwalk” writer Artie Resnick and 17-year-old Joey Levine, who played together with Resnick’s wife Kris in a group called the Third Rail. The Ohio Express liked the song, but the rush to release it meant the single only had Dale Powers singing lead over a session track.

When “Try It” charted in February 1968, Levine and Resnick were asked if they had a follow up in mind. Levine offered “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” which Jay & the Techniques had rejected because it sounded too juvenile. Not a problem for a Super K band! A demo was recorded with Jimmy Calvert’s group, K &K’s house band. Levine sang a dummy lead, only intended to sell the song. Neil Bogart loved his nasal whine, and decreed that he should be the permanent voice of the Ohio Express’ singles. To Levine’s surprised dismay, it was this demo version that showed up on the radio soon after, and climbed to #4 on the charts.

Joey Levine’s promotion to sometime lead vocalist created a conundrum for the touring band. Obviously the successful young songwriter wasn’t about to relocate to Mansfield to join the group. So the five band members took turns trying to sing in Levine’s distinctively bilious style, and Dean Kastran’s pipes provided the nearest approximation. Henceforth the Ohio Express found themselves in the unenviable position of having to learn their own hit records from the recordings.

The first Ohio Express album, Beg Borrow & Steal, was released on the Cameo/ Parkway label, where Neil Bogart worked as A&R man. Soon Bogart entered into a partnership with K&K, bringing them and the Ohio Express over to the new Buddah label, which would soon be known universally as bubblegum central. The first album blended folky garage, soul and frat-rock songs, some from the pens of band members Jim Pfahler and Tim Corwin. The more poppy material came from established writers. A full accounting is hard to come by, but the underproduced originals were probably recorded by the touring band, and the rest by the session team. The cover had a photo of the band surrounded by views of their psychedelic tour van, emblazoned with self-conscious countercultural slogans like “You Have Just been Passed By A Happening.”

The Ohio Express, album #1 for Buddah, opened with the organ- and bass-heavy kiddie pop sound of “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” but it also featured some strong band originals, ranging in style from punky garage to psychedelic pop. But by the Chewy Chewy album the Ohio band was nowhere to be seen. On this and Mercy (both released in 1969), lead vocals and between-song patter were almost exclusively handled by Joey Levine, with material written by Levine and other Super K staffers.

“Mercy” proved to be the last Ohio Express hit. Not only was the bubblegum fad’s popularity waning, but the pressure was taking a toll on both Joey Levine and the touring band. Organ player-and one-time main songwriter-Jim Pfahler had been missing shows. A band argument in the van on the way to a Cincinnati gig with the Lemon Pipers deteriorated until Pfahler hopped out with the keys. Tim Corwin hot-wired the engine and they ditched Pfahler. But there were more problems in store for the group. Turning on the radio, they heard for the first time “their” new single, “Chewy Chewy.” Humiliated by fans calling for the song they couldn’t play, Dean Kastran and Dale Powers quit soon after.

Meanwhile, Joey Levine was exhausted from his frenetic schedule as the Ohio Express’ writer, arranger, lead singer and engineer, and irked that he wasn’t making more money. He and Artie Resnick accepted an offer from MGM’s Mike Curb, and relocated to L.A.

In the absense of all the interested parties K&K tried to keep the Ohio Express name alive, releasing several more singles with a revolving crew of musicians. Replacement keyboard player Buddy Bengert sang lead on “Pinch Me,” while the countryish “Sausalito” was recorded in England by the group that would become 10cc, led by songwriter Graham Gouldman. In 1970, the name was quietly retired.

Today Joey Levine is a successful writer of advertising jingles. His work includes the very bubblegummy Almond Joy theme “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut,” “Just For the Fun Of It [Diet Coke],” “Sitting on a Ritz [Cracker]” and dozens more. Out on the road, drummer Tim Corwin continues to tour with a version of the Ohio Express that occasionally includes rhythm guitarist Doug Grassel. And on oldies radio, the Ohio Express still chugs along, sending kids of all ages into paroxysms of glee at their obscenely catchy riffs, snotty vocals and hilarious double entendres.

Thanks to Carl Cafarelli, Becky Ebenkamp, Bill Pitzonka and James Porter

Crazy Elephant

Crazy Elephant
by Bill Pitzonka

“There is no Crazy Elephant,” insists writer-producer Ritchie Cordell. “That was just Bob Spencer.” Robert Spencer was a member of the Cadillacs, who recorded the rock and roll classic “Speedo,” a #14 hit from 1955. In the years that followed, Spencer kept active in the industry, often penning songs and selling them off without just compensation, according to Cordell. In 1969, Spencer linked up with Kasenetz & Katz just as their Super K bubblegum machine was churning out the hits full-throttle.

Kasenetz & Katz hooked him up with Cordell and Joey Levine, who together had penned the soulful “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’.” The searing single, featuring Spencer’s scorching lead vocal and an obvious background vocal assist by Levine, was submitted to Buddah Records, the New York-based label with whom Kasenetz & Katz had been so continually successful. “We played it for [Buddah General Manager] Neil Bogart,” the Super K boys recall, “but he said, ‘No, I don’t hear it.'” Undeterred, they walked Crazy Elephant over to Larry Uttal at neighboring Bell Records, who snapped it up. By May 1969, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” hit #12 in Billboard. Its stateside success prompted a British release, where it also peaked at #12.

Kasenetz & Katz recruited a five-piece band of college-age youths to support the single on the road, pose for pictures, and fill out the inevitable album. According to the credits on that sole self-titled LP, the lucky winners of this strange sweepstakes were Larry Laufer (leader, keyboards and vocals), Ronnie Bretone (bass), Bob Avery (drums), Kenny Cohen (flute, sax, and vocals) and Hal King (vocals). The whole process was standard operating procedure for bubblegummeisters Kasenetz and Katz. More often than not, according to Cordell, they would “send five bands [with the same name] out on the road. They’d stick them in a room with the album and have them learn all the songs.”

“Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” was the only Crazy Elephant record for Cordell and Levine. When the Spencer-soundalike follow-ups “Sunshine, Red Wine” and “Gimme Some More” failed to click, Kasenetz & Katz took Crazy Elephant in a new direction