Avalon — Everyman A King Essay
If ever there was a prime example of a band having the rug swept from beneath them just as they had thought they’d obtained what they had spent the last six years working for then it has to be the Hollywood based Avalon.
Never to be confused with the Canadian pomp rock band that had released the ‘Voice Of Life’ album in 1977, Timmo Tolki’s progressive metal outfit nor the Frontiers Records signed all-star project put together by Richie Zito in 2006 — all of whom shared the same name — this band released an unforgettable, quite brilliant four-song EP for Capitol Records in 1982. Sadly, they all too quickly found that they lacked the support necessary from the label for the journey to continue any further. Frustratingly, as we will find, the reasons weren’t particularly music related either.
Although a number of other musicians were involved over the group’s life-span, the nucleus of Avalon consisted of Chris Coté and Rick Neigher. While both men have long gone on to enjoy greater success as an actor and a producer/songwriter respectively, Avalon is still something that the duo share a great sense of pride in and have fond recollections of writing the songs, building a buzz and the moment when they first heard the fruits of their labours on the radio for the first time.
“I was based on the West Coast going to the University of California in Berkeley and Rick was playing in bands on the East Coast,” recalls San Francisco born Coté. “We met because we were introduced to each other by Rick’s brother Steve, who I was waiting tables with working in a restaurant out here in L.A. in 1976. Steve thought we should meet up. We both had songs, so we went in to record these together and the whole thing started from there.”
“We began collaborating and writing together and it soon became apparent that, being based in Hollywood at that particular time, there were all kinds of interesting possibilities that we were able to investigate as a writing team,” adds Springfield, Massachusetts native Neigher. “So, we wrote songs that found their way on to TV show pilots and sometimes full series, which was great, but the more we did that the more we realised we were more interested in being part of the contemporary music scene in L.A.”
“We wanted to be rock stars,” laughs Chris. “We lived in a bungalow in the heart of Hollywood at the time on Argyle Avenue, ironically in the shadow of the Capitol Records building. Around about that time I had done some work for the music co-ordinator of Columbia Pictures. His name was Brendan Cahill. How he had got that gig was that he had been the chauffeur in the UK for the Monkees when they toured there, and they loved him so much they brought him back to the States with them. Anyway, through him we got some recording equipment that Rick and I put into the bungalow and recorded there with it for many years.”
The duo’s individual styles complemented each other well, as did their influences; as Rick explains: “Chris and I were both singers as well as musicians. I had been playing in covers bands back East and I was always intrigued by pop music that had a certain level of sophistication to it. Chris had his finger on the pulse of what was becoming New Wave in the late 70’s.”
“That’s true,” interjects Chris, “but before that I was very interested in the Westcoast stuff from the likes of James Taylor. I was into rock ’n’ roll of course — I loved Bruce Springsteen -but I was going to be more a Westcoast kind of artist originally. I played piano, I was a singer-songwriter. That was who I was coming out of college.”
“I think what appealed to both of us when we met was that we had both been music majors in college, but that we had a certain fundamental musical background,” continues Neigher. “We also had two very distinctive voices, so that when we sang together we created something different and interesting. That helped fuel the way we wrote songs and what drove us along to find and develop a direction for the music that we wanted to create. So while we were doing these paid gigs writing songs, some very interesting things started happening.”
At one point, Arista Records boss Clive Davis took an interest in the pair, having heard their music playing while in the vicinity of their bungalow one afternoon. While nothing would come out of Davis’ initial interest, there were certainly other notable figures within the music industry who were also taking note of what Chris and Rick were putting together. Those paid gigs mentioned earlier included placement of their songs in popular TV shows such as ‘Fantasy Island’.
“That was validation for us,” says Rick. “It proved to us that we could be musicians and make money. So that allowed us to record, explore and develop on our own. We got very good at it. The demos that we made began to circulate around Hollywood, and we got to know some very interesting, colourful people who began figuring out who we were. Guys like Kim Fowley and eventually Bob Margouleff, who had produced Devo and Stevie Wonder, took a real interest in what we were doing. It was one of those things where the momentum started moving along and it led to us playing at the likes of the Troubadour and other places around town. People started knowing a little bit more about us, and that’s how we wound up putting a band together. It was sometimes a little like musical chairs in terms of who was involved though….”
“We had multiple drummers and multiple bass players,” recalls Chris. “But the whole thing had been started by getting to know Brendan Cahill, getting the equipment and being able to write and record songs that allowed us to sound like a band, and that led to us actually putting a band together by getting other players involved.”
“We were always called Avalon,” notes Chris. “Today, people would probably ask us why we went with something that they think is linked with King Arthur, or people think it has something to do with the Roxy Music album ‘Avalon’ that came out in the same week as our EP, but it derives from the city of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island here in Southern California.”
The band would settle down with a line-up that comprised Rick on vocals and guitar, Chris on vocals and keyboards, Mike Mirage on lead guitar, Scott Norman on drums and bassist Simon Teolis. Playing the local circuit enabled Avalon to make their presence even more widely known.
“We had always felt we needed another guitar player and another keyboard player, and it turned out that Mike Mirage was able to play both instruments,” states Chris. “Not only that, but he was a good singer too. He was the final piece of the puzzle.”
“We had started putting more tapes together to get the word out, and every time we did a gig we would do all the same kind of stuff other bands were doing. We had a mailing list, we’d give out flyers, invited people down and Bob Margouleff was one of the guys who responded to receiving one of our tapes,” recalls Rick, taking up the story of how Avalon progressed to officially becoming recording artists. “He came to one of our rehearsals. He was a great guy. We’re still friends to this day. He took a real interest in what we were doing, made a few suggestions here and there. We were very excited to have him on board. He took us into Indigo Ranch studios up in the Malibu Hills and cut four songs with him and his engineer Howard Siegel.”
Those four songs were ‘Rumour Has It’, ‘Catch Us If You Can’, ‘Messin’ With My Baby’ and ‘Blackmail’. All four would be eventually find a home within the soundtrack to the 1982 movie ‘Wacko’ (a comedy with a horror theme that starred Joe Don Baker, Stella Stevens, Andrew Dice Clay and a young Elizabeth (aka E.G.) Daily), but the songs also exist on a 12” single pressed up as a promotional device used to attract further attention to the Avalon cause. However, it would be a live show that proved to be the icing on the cake….
“Bob was wonderful. He was a big fan of what Chris and I were doing,” recalls Rick. “Bob invited some people to come to see us play at a gig we had booked at the Country Club in Reseda and there were several A&R people there; the most consequential being Bobby Colomby from Capitol Records.
“Bobby saw himself as some kind of svengali type of guy and immediately saw Bob as a bit of an obstacle, so basically they came to an agreement over a production deal that we had previously signed with Bob, and Capitol bought out Bob’s participation. He was fine with it. He made some good money and we were excited to be making a deal with Capitol Records. We didn’t know Bobby that well other than he had been the drummer with Blood, Sweat and Tears, but hearing that name Capitol Records and seeing that logo we felt our dream had come true. While the deal was being formalised, Capitol Studios were finishing up the renovation of their Studio B in that legendary facility. Bobby saw this as an opportunity for us to nip in there and start doing some recording. We were of course fine with that, but the renovations kept being dragged out. Months went by and Chris and I were almost eating our arms off waiting for the word that we could start recording. The other guys in the band were asking us whether we were sure this whole thing was ever going to happen. It was frustrating.”
While the initial agreements between Avalon and the label had been made in September 1981, the whole deal wasn’t signed off until the end of December, so the band wouldn’t begin recording until January 1982.
“The way things worked out,” continues Chris, “was that one of the things about Bobby was that once we got into the studio to finally begin recording he didn’t think he would be able to work with our existing rhythm section because he wanted to make the best record he could make. That meant bringing in guys like Mike Porcaro on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. From our perspective Rick and I also wanted to make the best record we could make, but some hearts were going to be broken. That sucked. The bass player and the drummer didn’t want to be around it anymore if they weren’t going to play on it, so it was a case of ‘fuck you guys’ from them to us, as you can imagine.”
“We did say to them, ‘look, there will still be the live band and there would be a tour’, because we were pretty sure Vinnie Colaiuta would not have gone on the road with us and Mike Porcaro had other gigs, but the bassist and drummer didn’t see things that way. They were very disappointed,” adds Rick. “But when Chris and I heard Vinnie’s kick drum for the first time, we’d never heard anything like it. He was amazing. Mike Porcaro was just awesome too.”
Another session guy invited in by Bobby Colomby to the recording was keyboard maestro Jai Winding (who had not long since produced one of the greatest melodic rock albums of all-time in Le Roux’s ‘Up’, also reissued by Rock Candy).
“One of the things about this project was that Bobby would bring people by to watch us recording, to see us and hear us,” notes Chris. “We would meet this wonderful array of people and that’s how we ended up playing on an America record.”
That record being 1982’s ‘View From The Ground’, on which Colomby produced two of the album’s tracks at Capitol and used Chris, Rick, Mike Mirage and some of the session guys who were playing on the Avalon EP to record ‘Desperate Love’ and ‘Right Before Your Eyes’ on the second side of that particular vinyl album.
“We sang backgrounds on several songs on that album too,” states Rick. “It was a really fun period. I loved being in the studio and that would really set me up for what would come later in my career. I realised during this period that being in the studio and working in that environment for me was more exciting than fronting a band.”
The EP was released in the spring of 1982. Titled ‘Everyman A King’, it contained ‘Can’t Find A Way To Say Goodbye’, ‘Deeper Than The Heart’, ‘Crossfire’ and ‘Writing On The Wall’. The band were also responsible for the record’s title and the artwork.
“There was a famous comedian by the name of Phil Hartman who was tragically shot and killed by his wife in 1998. He is the guy who created our logo. He was a friend of Rick’s brother Steve, who had introduced us to each other. Steve is a comedy writer, so that’s how he had got to know Phil (who was a regular on the NBC TV show ‘Saturday Night Live’ for many years) The photo on the back cover was taken by Henry Diltz, a classic Laurel Canyon hippy kinda guy who was responsible for the cover, amongst many others, for the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album where they were sitting on the couch. He was one of the guys in L.A.”
“With regards to the picture of the guy on the front cover, when we saw that we immediately thought it was a really interesting image. I love the lightning bolt in the background and the checkerboard floor,” furthers Rick.
It turns out that the EP title was adapted from the official slogan of the ‘Share Our Wealth’ movement, conceived by American politician Huey Long during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The actual slogan was “Every Man a King (But No One Wears a Crown)”, which also became the title of a song co-written by Long in 1935 to promote his proposal.
“What we didn’t know at the time the EP was released in the Spring of 1982 was that Bobby Colomby had something of a chequered relationship with people at the label. He was a somewhat abrasive kinda guy, and what we had no particular way of knowing was that he wasn’t going to get the red carpet treatment with his projects through the system, but I do remember that when the record had just been released and Chris and I were in New York and somebody told us to turn on the radio to WNEW who announced they were going to be playing a new band that had oddly the same name as Roxy Music’s new album. I was sitting in Manhattan in a friend’s apartment and went ‘holy shit, this is what I waited my whole life for’. That was a great moment.”
In terms of the songs, the four tracks that feature on the EP were very much in tune with what was going on a radio oriented level in the States at the time; the classic North American AOR sound with elements of Toto and Foreigner in the mix. Where the immense ‘Writing On The Wall’ was concerned, well, this is musically very similar in approach to what a band like Sheriff (coincidentally also a Capitol act) would be releasing a year later.
“There was a time when we would consciously think we needed to do a song in the vein of this band or that band,” offers Chris, “and we’d gone through our new wave phase too, but by the time we got signed we were in the mindset of writing songs in our own style; which was Avalon music.”
“We had written songs that were influenced by the likes of Boston, such as a song titled ‘Midnight Rendezvous’ which you’ll find as one of the bonus tracks on this reissue,” offers Rick. “When I first heard Boston I thought they sounded so big and so powerful, and Brad Delp’s voice was a real inspiration for me. I could never sing as high as he could, but I tried! We were very much aware of what was on the radio, and Chris and I would hear Foreigner and Boston. But by the time we got ready to roll, Capitol was having success with Missing Persons and Duran Duran. So the EP was released at a time when melodic rock was beginning to go through some evolution. That timing threw us a bit of a curveball.”
So was that why the EP was the only record that was ever released in the relationship with Capitol? Not exactly….
“Bobby Colomby is a very personable, outgoing, friendly guy, but he is a strong personality and is a controlling personality,” Chris responds. “If we had known this we should have ingratiated ourselves far more than we did to the people at Capitol.”
“The thing is,” adds Rick, “we didn’t have a manager. Bobby discouraged us from getting a manager which, when you think about it, was horribly selfish. He wanted to keep control of the situation. If we’d had a manager who knew how to work the system at Capitol, knew how to work the promotion people and all that, I think we would’ve had a great start. But the problem was that we were seen as an extra appendage of Bobby Colomby’s world and that wasn’t the most favourable place to be.”
“We had some airplay in some areas, like Atlanta,” states Chris,” but if we’d actually had promotion on the album then it might’ve made the difference. But you live and you learn.”
Was the plan always going to be an EP first and then Avalon would progress to a full album’s worth of material?
“EP’s were very popular at that time,” responds Chris on the subject.
“The offer of the EP was just step one, as far as we were concerned,” adds Rick. “It was just something to get the ball rolling. We were writing all the time, so it wasn’t as if we didn’t have anything else to offer.”
Were Chris and Rick ever aware of the cult following they achieved in Europe for the EP?
“I don’t think Chris and I fully appreciated that there were that many people who cared about it, let alone in Europe, until many years later. Had we been savvier about this stuff, who knows what we might’ve done abroad. But it’s such a joy to us to get this out again with some additional material that’s not been heard before. The recording quality of the other songs may not be the same as if we’d recorded them at the same time as the EP, but the songwriting is still solid.”
“One song was produced by Ron Fair,” reveals Chris, “Ron went on to be a big player in the industry, discovering Christina Aguilera and such, but he was running Baby Grand Records in Hollywood at the time we met him. His career just took off, but along the way he produced the song we have here called ‘River Of No Return’, which was recorded after we did the EP.”
What brought things to a close so far as Avalon was concerned?
“It wasn’t a case of us just closing things off very quickly,” responds Chris. “It was just something that happened over time after realising that we weren’t going to make another record with Capitol. I had already become an actor. I had acted in college and I was suddenly asked if I had an agent one night, so that’s what I went off to pursue (Chris subsequently appearing in the likes of ‘Dynasty’, ‘Magnum P.I.’, ‘Matlock’ and ‘Days Of Our Lives’, to name just a few of his major credits). I did have a band without Rick for a brief time.”
“I had become very interested in producing and writing as a result of working on the EP because we were working in a really major league studio, so that became my passion and my goal,” states Rick who would go on to work with the likes of Prince, Vixen, Alias, John Mellencamp, The GoGo’s, Sass Jordan and Leah Andreone amongst others. “I really wanted to make records so I found myself wondering how I was going to achieve that. I found myself a gig at a publishing company and working in their studio. In that environment I was able to bring in artists that I wanted to develop, or artists who were signed to the publishing company who I would record demo tapes with. The timing was perfect. As a writer/producer you have to morph into all sorts of roles, so as I did it longer and longer I found myself less able to do that so I stopped doing it when it became less fulfilling for me. But listen, I love doing what I did. I mean, I worked with Prince, I worked with just a bunch of wonderful different artists. I got to travel the world. It was the greatest thing. I wouldn’t have changed anything, which includes reconnecting with Chris again and starting an a capella group (Who’s Your Daddy, that also features New York composer Adam Gorgoni and ex Sheriff/Alias frontman Freddy Curci) and having a blast with that for the last eight years.”
Did you ever think of placing your Avalon material elsewhere?
“That’s a great question. Doing this reissue project with Rock Candy has put my head back into the songs that Chris and I had written together. We did get a couple of things that we’d written that were recorded by some Warner Brothers signed act back in the disco era, but so far as the Avalon songs were concerned I think I felt that they were too kinda personal to us. I think we were also both looking forward rather than backward, so the Avalon material became frozen in time. But the EP still sounds so unbelievable I love listening to it. The musicianship; the ideas that Chris and I had and the chance we had to grow and breathe in a real recording studio with real musicians. It was a thrill.”
In addition to the EP’s four original songs, Rick and Chris have selected seven previously unreleased tracks to complement them on this remastered and reloaded reissue.
“Of the seven tunes there may be one from 1980, but everything else was recorded between the ’81 to ’82 timeframe,” notes Neigher.
“The first two of the seven new songs we’ve given Rock Candy to go with the original EP are just Rick and I playing or engineering in our little studio/bungalow on Argyle Avenue in Hollywood,” furthers Chris. “’Midnight Rendezvous’ and ‘Spirits of Love’ are Rick on drums, bass, guitar, lead vocals and me on keyboards and vocals.
“There is one live song we’re including called ‘Dreamland’, and this is by the live band that Bobby Colomby came backstage and signed at Doug Weston’s Country Club in September 1981. The recording is from the Troubadour in 1980 or ’81. So, that’s me and Rick with Mike Mirage, Scott Norman and Simon Teolis. And, yes, we did have to personally visit Doug Weston’s boy’s clubhouse, aka his home, to get him to listen to our demo before we could play his club! He was a character, and treated us well, actually. I’ve got a ticket stub somewhere from the Troubadour with us as the 10pm headliner, followed by Missing Persons at midnight.”
“It’s worth noting that this material also gives Chris the opportunity to finally step in and be heard as a lead singer on a couple of the songs because he’s got a great voice. And that’s awesome,” interjects Rick.
Chris did sing lead on some of the ‘Wacko’ soundtrack songs, such as ‘Rumour Has It’. though.
“Rick and I would trade lead vocals a lot back then,” states Coté. “Bob Margouleff was very keen in me fronting the band and we actually recorded some material with him that was more in line with what Elvis Costello was doing than how the songs on the EP sound.”
Still, I’m sure it’s to everyone’s pleasure that Elvis had, in a manner of speaking and if you pardon the pun, left the building by the time the dynamic duo had begun to put the material together you should now be revelling in right now. And could it get any better than ‘Writing On The Wall’ in terms of exquisite melodic rock??