Come on Down to My Boat

New York-born songwriter Wes Farrell got his big break in the music biz with "Boys," a song he'd written with Luther Dixon. Its fortuitous placement on the flip side of the number-one-in-'61 smash "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by Luther's girls The Shirelles set the 21-year-old Wes on an advanced, but hit-and-miss, path. When The Beatles recorded a version of "Boys" with Ringo rocking the vocals, it put a feather in Farrell's cap; soon he was working with Bert Berns who, using his alter ego Bert Russell, supplied hit-potential tunes for American and British acts alike. Together Berns and Farrell created solid sellers for The Animals and Solomon Burke, in addition to "My Girl Sloopy," a 1964 hit for The Vibrations and, later, The McCoys, when retitled "Hang On Sloopy." Working with a varying cast of collaborators, Farrell penned a few big ones for Jay and the Americans including "Come a Little Bit Closer."

Farrell liked having control, discovering artists and being in on the ground floor when new trends developed, and these early successes afforded him the freedom to negotiate with major record labels (generally avoiding the small companies). He learned how to wheel and deal with the best of them...and was able to back up his claims an acceptable percentage of the time. A stepping stone towards getting to this level came in the form of The Rare Breed, a band from N.Y. that had recorded "Beg, Borrow and Steal" for the Jerry Kasenetz-Jeff Katz production team on the Attack label in the spring of '66; a second single, "Come and Take a Ride in My Boat," concocted by Farrell with Jerry Goldstein of The Strangeloves, had the goods to be a hit but couldn't get off the ground. Both songs, it turned out, were destined to make it. Kasenetz and Katz sold the "Beg, Borrow" master to Cameo Records and it reached the top 40 under a fictitious name, The Ohio Express; the territorial anonym became the brand for a string of studio-created bubblegum hits lasting the remainder of the decade.

As for that Rare Breed "Boat" opus, Farrell was determined to try again. A quintet of New York college students auditioned for him; he christened them Every Mothers' Son and proceeded to spend eight months prepping them for stardom. Rhythm and acoustic guitarist Lary Larden filled the lead singer role and his brother, Dennis, played lead guitar and banjo. Bruce Milner handled all keyboard instruments (as a child he and his brother sang together as Barry and Bruce, going through their paces for about 15 years). Schuyler Larsen was the bassist, Christopher Augustine the drummer. More than one hundred hours were spent in the studio, meticulously recording material for an album. MGM Records signed EMS to a contract under Farrell's Coral Rock Productions.

A promotional blitz kicked off in early '67 and the "lion label" spared little expense. The group was sent around the country as "parties" were arranged for more than a thousand deejays and journalists in the top radio markets. Their image was clean-cut, going against the longer-haired, bearded, transcendental image popularized by The Beatles and other rock acts. A March ad in Billboard Magazine proclaimed: "EVERY MOTHERS' SON is courteous, cheerful, and brushes twice after every meal." An ad the following week said, "EVERY MOTHERS' SON is clean, healthy, and sees his barber twice a year." Twice! Yet another trade ad: "EVERY MOTHERS' SON is loyal, steadfast, and knows who won the World Series in 1923" (but then who wasn't aware of what "The Babe" did that season?). A much larger ad the following week was positively sickening in its use of adjectives to describe the group, in large letters, making them out to be so squeaky-clean the Boy Scouts might have turned them away: "EVERY MOTHERS' SON is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, healthy, stalwart, steadfast, alert, and ready NOW on MGM!" Below that, there was a warning to "Be prepared!" for their TV debut on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Friday night, March 31.

The guest spot on NBC's trendy-but-ripening spy series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum (produced by MGM's TV division...surprise!) had been set up during the eight-month drill. Wes had convinced MGM bigwigs the band would be huge, positioning them in advance for a spot on one of the company's shows. Their participation was minimal; the song received most of the exposure, but the band went uncredited despite the big push in the trades. More attention was actually paid to screen legend Joan Crawford's cameo appearance in the episode, The Five Daughters Affair: Part I, her first acting role in nearly two years. Surely someone said, "The song had better be a hit after all this effort!" MGM jumped the gun a bit with a full-page Billboard ad a few weeks later that went like this: "All America is pledging allegiance to EVERY MOTHERS' SON!"

Every Mothers' Son

It seemed like we'd witnessed this type of hype before...recently...but of course! The guys were made to appear like a fun-loving Monkees-type group...only without the TV show...or much screen time. Manager Peter Leeds came close to closing a deal with MGM's film division for a movie starring the boys, but it never happened. They were in a film, The Karate Killers, but on closer inspection it was nothing more than the two-episode color U.N.C.L.E. installment, re-edited (more flatteringly so for EMS over the opening credits, though the song itself was intriguingly chopped into pieces) and retitled for a theatrical run. One might wonder what the results would have been if such a promotional campaign had been rolled out for some of the year's harder-rocking new bands (Doors, Cream, Airplane?); the same...ahem, low level of success? I shudder at the thought! Then again, EMS made out better than The Rare Breed, another of the many casualties of the often-unfair music industry. Apparently, those guys disappeared back into the shadows of New York's boroughs; "There are eight million stories in the Naked City and they were one of..." and all that jazz.

I might as well get around to the song in question, 'cause it was a good one! "Come on Down to My Boat" (that's the exact line as sung in both the Rare Breed and Every Mothers' Son versions) was produced by Farrell with all the stops pulled out, a clever lyrical ditty with strong instrumentation and a progressive time signature that varies throughout. All those deejays at the promotional parties were impressed as per the plan (or perhaps a little "spiked punch" helped the decision-making...can't say for sure, just sayin'). The single hit the national charts in May and was top ten all through July...now and forever cemented as one of the far-out memories of the infamous "Summer of Love."

The Larden brothers penned much of EMS's material, including the catchy follow-up single (from their "trippier" second album), "Put Your Mind at Ease," which hovered just below the top 40 in September. That fall, Farrell set up what he called a "Rock Workshop" in a loft on N.Y.'s West Side. It was designed less like a recording studio than a nightclub-style rehearsal space...only visitors weren't invited. Except a few V.I.P. industry types for occasional promo parties, perhaps. The loft would conceivably be available for any up-and-coming band who needed a well-equipped place to practice. Mainly it just served as a fancy clubhouse where Every Mothers' Son could work on new material. So who'd have thought the band would be finished in a matter of months?

Work began on a third LP that never materialized. Schuyler Larsen had been replaced by bassist Don Kerr, unaware he could count his remaining days with EMS on a pocket calendar. "Pony With the Golden Mane," another Larden brothers tune, and "No One Knows," a Wes Farrell collaborative effort, gave them a fleck of "here-today-gone-in-two-weeks" chart dismay into early '68. The fifth single, Larsen's "Rainflowers," was the last. MGM, all about the "EMS Experience" a year earlier, dropped them and moved on to new projects. Wes Farrell did too. Dennis Larden had many good times ahead as a member of Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band. Christopher Augustine later became former McCoy Rick Derringer's drummer. Bruce Milner, who'd been studying dentistry the whole time, went ahead with his backup plan.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Come on Down to My Boat Put Your Mind at Ease