Classic Rock Profiles: The Lemon Pipers

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A short introduction to The Lemon Pipers

The Oxford, Ohio band The Lemon Pipers are best known for their 1967 bubblegum-pop hit single “Green Tambourine.” The band was signed to Buddah label, which was then run by the late record executive Neil Bogart. The band’s first single “Take A Look Around” didn’t chart, but their second one “Green Tambourine,” shot to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Green Tambourine”, as well as the band’s other follow-up numbers, were written by Paul Leka and Shelley Pinz. The Lemon Pipers, whose personal preference veered toward psychedelic music, were pressured by the label to remain in the bubblegum genre; they reluctantly recorded “Green Tambourine” because Buddah would drop them had they refused. Eventually the band left Buddah and broke up for good in 1969.

The formation of the classic Lemon Pipers lineup

The Lemon Pipers were formed by college students from Oxford, Ohio in 1966. Originally, the band was a four-piece, consisting of keyboardist Robert G. “Reg” Nave, guitarist Bill Bartlett, bassist Ron “Dude” Dudek, and drummer William E. “Bill” Albaugh. Each of the band members had previously played at college bars with other groups. They also had regular gigs at local clubs and underground rock venues around Oxford and nearby Cincinnati, and even participated in a local rock band contest, where they lost out to another would-be rock legends James Gang.

Actually, the Lemon Piper’s future lead singer Dale “Ivan” Browne was a university student in Miami, Florida at the time when the band recruited him. Dudek was later replaced by new bassist Steve Walmsley. Then they hooked up with manager Mark Barger, who helped the band secure a recording contract with Buddah Records which was then run by the late industry veteran Neil Bogart. Apart from a recording contract, the Lemon Pipers also secured a music publishing deal with the label, through Barger’s recommendation.

Rise to Fame 

The psychedelic rock group The Lemon Pipers became well-known in the late 1960s. The band, originally from Ohio in the United States, rose to fame after releasing the number-one single “Green Tambourine” in 1967. The song’s catchy melody, lively harmonies, and distinctive usage of the tambourine as a main instrument all contributed to its ascent up the charts, where it eventually peaked at No. 1 in both the United States and Canada. The Lemon Pipers’ psychedelic vibe, which was typified by their bright and lighthearted lyrics and their vivacious live performances, further cemented their ascent to prominence during the Summer of Love era.

The group finally broke up in the early 1970s after struggling to match the commercial success of “Green Tambourine” despite their initial popularity. However, their popular song continues to stand out as a significant turning point in their career, highlighting their influence on the psychedelic rock movement of the late 1960s.

Career

Students from Oxford, Ohio who had previously performed in campus bars with The Wombats (Nave), Ivan and the Sabres (Browne), and Tony and the Bandits (Bartlett, Albaugh, and Dudek) founded the band in 1966. The band performed a combination of blues, hard rock, and folk rock, as well as a few Who and Byrds covers. Before releasing the song “Quiet Please” on the Carol Records label, they played frequently in the Oxford bar The Boar’s Head and Cincinnati underground rock venues The Mug Club and later The Ludlow Garage. The original band began as a quartet and rose to fame after competing in the 1967 Ohio Battle of the Bands finals at Cleveland Public Auditorium and falling short against the James Gang.

Signing a record deal

The Lemon Pipers then hired Browne, a student at Miami University, as their frontman. They also hired Mark Barger, a prominent figure in Ohio’s music business, who introduced them to Neil Bogart’s Buddah Records at the time. The Lemon Pipers decided to sign a recording contract and a song publishing agreement with Buddah, partially based on Barger’s counsel. With Traffic, Moby Grape, and Spirit on the same bill at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West in San Francisco on March 21, 1968, the group started performing at larger auditorium and concert hall venues around the US. The Lemon Pipers joined a stable that already included Ohio Express and the appropriately named 1910 Fruitgum Company. Buddah’s objectives for the group were to play bubblegum pop rather than rock music. Their record was to be produced by Paul Leka.

Number one hit 

The Bartlett song “Turn Around and Take a Look” served as the group’s first track on Buddah. The company requested a new song from Leka and Shelley Pinz, who were writing songs out of an office in the Brill Building on Broadway when the first one failed to chart. “Green Tambourine” was written by the duo, and the band grudgingly recorded it. The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 towards the end of 1967 and topped the Billboard and Cashbox charts in February 1968. The song was popular all over the world and peaked at No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart. It was given a gold disc by the Recording Industry Association of America (R.I.A.A.) in February 1968 after selling over two million copies.

The band released another Leka/Pinz song, “Rice Is Nice,” in March 1968 under pressure from the label to stick to the same kind of music following the success of “Green Tambourine.” This song peaked at No. 46 on the US Billboard charts, No. 42 on the US Cashbox charts, and No. 41 in the UK in May. However, the band wasn’t particularly into either song, referring to it as “funny-money music,” and they only recorded them because they knew that if they didn’t, Buddah would let them go. Eric Ehrmann’s song “Ordinary Point of View,” which also features a Bartlett country solo, was recorded, but Buddah rejected it. Ehrmann stopped writing songs after growing disenchanted with Buddah and the music business, and he later started contributing to Rolling Stone magazine. A few copyright and royalty concerns relating to the former owner of Buddah Records that were inherited by the present owners of the Kama Sutra music publishing library and Lemon Pipers songs have not been fully resolved, as is typical with music from the 1960s.

Stereotyped 

What Nave has referred to as “the duality of the Lemon Pipers” was established as a result of the band’s transition from 1960s rock music to gold-record pop: “We were a stand-up rock ‘n’ roll band, and then all of a sudden, we’re in a studio, being told how to play and what to play.”

The Lemon Pipers’ self-titled debut album made the gap between the label’s goals and the band’s personal artistic preferences clear. The Leka/Pinz record, which he also produced, featured five of their original songs as well as two extended versions: “Fifty Year Void” and “Through With You” (the latter of which was written by Bartlett and reportedly clocks in at 8:31 according to the original LP label). Ehrmann’s song “Ask Me If I Care” was also featured. Ehrmann belonged to the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and was a member of the Lemon Pipers along with Nave and Albaugh. The Pipers’ way with a tough-pop gem in the under-four-minute category was by far the most impressive, according to Gary Pig Gold, who wrote about it in Bubblegum is the Naked Truth. “Rainbow Tree,” “Shoeshine Boy,” and especially “Blueberry Blue” each sported a taut, musical sophistication worthy of The Move and, dare I say it, even the Magical Mystery Beatles,” he said.

Another Leka/Pinz song, “Jelly Jungle (of Orange Marmalade”), was recorded by the group for Buddah. It peaked at No. 51 on Billboard and No. 30 on Cashbox in the US. The album also included a cover of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song “I Was Not Born to Follow,” as well as the epic 11-minute, 43-second song “Dead End Street”/”Half Light.”

Dissolution 

The group dissolved after leaving the Buddah label in 1969. Starstruck was founded by Bartlett, Walmsley, and Nave. The group’s recording of the Lead Belly song “Black Betty” was later reworked by Super K Productions producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz and released in 1977 as Ram Jam, with Bartlett as a featured artist. Browne moved to California to continue his musical career, and Walmsley played bass in the Oxford area. After the passing of his wife Dee Dee, Bartlett became depressed and reclusive. Nave began broadcasting jazz on WVXU in Cincinnati and occasionally performed the organ with The Blues Merchants in venues throughout southwest Ohio.

Bill Albaugh, a drummer, passed away on January 20, 1999, at the age of 53. Bob Nave, a keyboardist, passed away on January 28, 2020, at the age of 75. Bob Nave was born Robert Gordon Nave on November 3, 1944 in Dayton, Ohio.

Green Tambourine by The Lemon Pipers UK vinyl

Live Performances 

When The Lemon Pipers first gained notoriety in the late 1960s, they were renowned for their lively and vivacious live performances. Their energetic stage presence, playful antics, and psychedelic sound set their performances apart. The band frequently added vibrant costumes and props to their shows, giving audiences a visually appealing experience.

The band’s rendition of their hit song “Green Tambourine,” in which they demonstrated how they employ the tambourine as a major instrument in a distinctive way, was one of the highlights of their live performances. The audience would frequently start dancing and singing along due to the song’s high speed and enticing melody.

The Lemon Pipers’ live performances were made more rich and more sophisticated by the complicated guitar solos, perfect vocal harmonies, and vibrant percussion that served as additional examples of their musicianship. Their audience had a compelling and immersive experience because of their psychedelic music, which was defined by swirling guitars, surreal vocal effects, and experimental compositions.

The Lemon Pipers’ attractive and fun stage appearance won over their audiences in addition to their musical prowess. During their performances, they would engage with the audience, make jokes, and foster an upbeat and fun atmosphere. The emphasis on freedom, expression, and experimentation in their performances was frequently interpreted as a mirror of the hypnotic counterculture of the time.

Music Styles 

The Lemon Pipers were well-known for their particular musical style, which included psychedelic rock, pop, and bubblegum pop in addition to other genres that were popular in the late 1960s. They were distinguished from other bands of their day by their distinctive use of catchy melodies, beautiful vocal harmonies, and experimental arrangements in their music.

Their most well-known song, “Green Tambourine,” with its cheerful speed, jangly guitars, and prominent usage of the tambourine as a major instrument, perfectly encapsulated their distinctive sound. The song’s strong vocal hooks and catchy chorus became a distinguishing aspect of their musical aesthetic.

Psychedelic components including dreamy vocal effects, swirling guitars, and experimental arrangements were frequently used in The Lemon Pipers’ music. Additionally, they blended pop and bubblegum pop aspects into their music, creating upbeat and melodic songs that frequently featured upbeat harmonies and catchy hooks.

Their songs frequently addressed topics like love, relationships, and the human experience while taking a lighthearted and occasionally humorous tone. The band’s music had a sense of freedom, optimism, and exploration that matched the experimental, experimental counterculture of the late 1960s.

The band’s number one hit single “Green Tambourine”

The band’s first released single was the Bartlett-penned “Turn Around and Take a Look.” When it bombed on the charts (at #132), it prompted Buddah to recruit two Bill Building-trained tunesmiths: record producer Paul Leka and songwriter Shelley Pinz.

Leka and Pinz were tasked to write a possible hit tune for the Lemon Pipers. Finally, they came up with a song called “Green Tambourine,” whose style is more like bubblegum pop which was in trend during that era. Unfortunately, the hard rock-driving Lemon Pipers were resistant to the new song’s musical style. However, knowing that Buddah might drop them, the band reluctantly went to record it.

“Green Tambourine” paced the charts in 1967, leading all the way to #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also peaked at #7 on the UK singles chart. It sold a million copies leading to a “gold” record status. Their next single was “Rice Is Nice,” which was also composed by Leka and Pinz. It went to #46 on the Hot 100 and #41 on the UK charts in 1968. Both tracks apparead on the band’s debut album Green Tambourine which placed #90 on the Billboard 200 album chart.

The Lemon Pipers’ problems with Buddah Records

However, not all is well between the Lemon Pipers and Buddah Records. The band wasn’t too happy with the state of their career, especially when they were feeling the pressure to remain in the bubblegum genre. The gap between the band and the label deepened, as evidenced by their debut LP.

The Lemon Pipers’ last charting single was another Leka/Pinz composition “Jelly Jungle (of Orange Marmalade).” Another song of the bubblegum pop vein, “Jelly Jungle” was from the band’s last studio album Jungle Marmalade. It reached #51 on the Hot 100.

The band’s split; the members’ post-Lemon Pipers lives and careers

The Lemon Pipers left Buddah and called it a day in 1969. In their post-Lemon Pipers career, Bartlett, Walmsley and Nave became members of a new band called Ram Jam. The individual members then went on with their own lives and occupations, most of them concerning with the music business and performing. Ex-Piper drummer Albaugh passed away in 1999, aged 53.

Conclusion

The Lemon Pipers were a psychedelic rock band from the late 1960s known for their distinct musical style, vivacious live performances, and hit single “Green Tambourine.” Their fusion of psychedelic rock, pop, and bubblegum pop, as well as their unique use of instruments, made them a memorable part of the era’s music scene. The Lemon Pipers had a brief period of economic success, but they had a long-lasting influence on classic rock and are known for their upbeat performances and catchy tunes.

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