Legendary guitarist Merrell Fankhauser talks about Rock n' Roll counterculture, the 1960s and The Tiki Lounge TV show

"I tell this to young bands often that come to me for advice. Copyrighting your song is the most important thing to do first. Don't be anxious to sign a contract until someone like a music lawyer reads the document."

Merrell Fankhauser: Music Of Intelligence

Merrell Fankhauser has led one of the most diverse and interesting careers in music. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and moved to California when he was 13 years old. Merrell went on to become one of the innovators of surf music and psychedelic folk rock. His travels from Hollywood to his 15 year jungle experience on the island of Maui have been documented in numerous music books and magazines. Merrell has gained legendary international status throughout the field of rock music; his credits include over 400 songs published and released. He is a multi-talented and unique guitar player. In the early days, Merrell led the instrumental surf group The Impacts who had a hit with their album "WIPE OUT". Upon moving to the high desert area of California in 1964, Merrell formed Merrell and the Exiles whose album "FAPARDOKLY" (1967) is one of the most sought after 60s psychedelic recordings. In the late 60s, Merrell led his group H.M.S. Bounty to several hits with album "THINGS". Merrell joined forces with Jeff Cotton from Captain Beefheart's Band in 1970 to form the group MU, and the next year released their debut album.                                 (Merrell Fankhauser / Castillo and Kong Photography) 

In 1973, Merrell and his group MU moved to the island of Maui to further their studies of the fabled Lost Continent of Mu or Lemuria. In 1975, after MU disbanded, Merrell began work on a group of songs for a solo album that described perfectly the feeling of his lifestyle in his jungle house beside a free-flowing stream in the Maui rainforest. These songs were released in 1976 by an independent Hawaiian label and was titled "The Maui Album". The following years found Merrell spending his time writing songs and performing in the Hawaiian Islands. In 1986, Merrell teamed up with the late John Cipollina to record "DR. FANKHAUSER". In 1994, with the release of the film "PULP FICTION", instrumental surf music came back in a big way. In 2001, Merrell began hosting a music TV show called, "Tiki Lounge" that airs on California, Hawaii, and parts of the East Coast. Fans of all ages can discover the magic Fankhauser creates with his live album, Tiki Lounge Live (2018) with special guests the late Ed Cassidy of Spirit, The Brymers, Lindsey Ikeno, and Merrell's son Tim Fankhauser and more! His 1967 song "Lila" currently included in the movie "The Trial Of The Chicago 7". Merrell awarded a "Marquis Who's Who Lifetime Achievement Award In Entertainment" in 2020.

Interview by Michael Limnios         Merrell Fankhauser, 2016 Interview @ blues.gr

How has the Rock n' Roll Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

In 1962 I was living on the California central coast and was influenced by the Surfing culture, I became a surfer and started writing songs with surfing titles. My band The Impacts was discovered playing in Pismo Beach and Del Fi Records released our album "Wipe Out" that got good airplay and sales. We were one of the first bands to do what would be called Instrumental Surf Music. Later in 1963 I formed Merrell And The Exiles and we started doing a new style of vocal music that would later be called Folk Rock and Psychedelic Rock. We moved to L.A and we were swept away in the new Peace and Love Hippy inspired wave that ultimately influenced how we lived and looked at the world and its inhabitants as all Brothers and Sisters.  That feeling continues on today in 2021!

Why do you think that the Merrell Fankhauser music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I feel very lucky to still have labels releasing my new music and re issuing my older albums. I have managed to change with the times and yet always create a new style of music that my fans can relate to and enjoy. I now have over 40 albums released, and counting compilations over 128 releases!                     (Photo: Merrell and the Exiles, 1967)

"The 60's were a time of realization, the dream of Love and Peace for all beings on Planet Earth. it was a natural movement that most believe started in California. People were searching for something better and wanting to save the planet. Ordinary people got interested in spiritual religions and meditation from India and Tibet.  It was a time of awakening that brought along with it a new kind of music!"

Are there any memories from The Impacts, John Cipollina, and FAPARDOKLY sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There are so many great memories! Playing with The Impacts in 1962 at the big Rose Garden Ballroom in Pismo beach just feet from the ocean waves to a thousand people every weekend was very exciting! Doing the recording sessions that ended up on the legendary Fapardokly album was a fun time, and we had no idea the album would become one of the most sought after valuable recordings ! the songs are in movies today, 'Lila' in "Chappaquiddick' and  "The Trial of The Chicago 7" and "Tomorrow's Girl" on the  Grammy nominated compilation, L.A Nuggets 1965-1968" ! Recording the 'Doctor Fankhauser" album with John Cipollina was very spontaneous and fun. Recording songs for my "Return To MU" album with piano wiz Nicky Hopkins who recorded with "The Beatles" and "The Rolling Stones" was very uplifting and inspirational. Also doing the live concert with Willi Nelson on Maui in 2000 was a blast! There's a video of us doing "Wipe Out" on you tube. Willi plays a solo on a Fender electric guitar!

What would you say characterizes California music scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?

The positive outlook and relaxed feel of music inspired in California. The music that's created in California just has a special feel that people really like. I feel the same about the music I've written in Hawaii, it has a special laid-back spiritual quality. The feeling of Aloha.

Are there any exclusively specific memorable moments with people that you’ve performed in "Tiki Lounge"?

The Tiki Lounge TV show is now in its 20th year. There have been so many special moments filmed on the set. Some that come to mind are the shows with "Spirit" drummer Ed Cassidy and Randy California, Psychedelic legend "Sky Saxon" of "The Seeds', playing live with "Dean Torrence" of "Jan And Dean', and playing live with  "Nicky Hopkins', "Mike Love" of "The Beach Boys" . So many more it would fill up a book! 20 years of shows broadcast in Hawaii and California. There are select shows on you tube. Hopefully this summer we will start filming new episodes. The show is currently in reruns due to COVID.                             (Merrell Fankhauser / Castillo and Kong Photography) 

"I feel very lucky to still have labels releasing my new music and re issuing my older albums. I have managed to change with the times and yet always create a new style of music that my fans can relate to and enjoy. I now have over 40 albums released, and counting compilations over 128 releases!"

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I have learned how to copyright and publish my songs to protect my rights from the 'Song Sharks' as we lost our royalties and rights in 1962 to our first album before learning this important lesson! I did manage to get the rights back in 1994 when the copyright expired!  I tell this to young bands often that come to me for advice. Copyrighting your song is the most important thing to do first. Don't be anxious to sign a contract until someone like a music lawyer reads the document.

What were the reasons that made the 60s to be the center of Psychedelic Folk/Rock researches and experiments?

The 60's were a time of realization, the dream of Love and Peace for all beings on Planet Earth. it was a natural movement that most believe started in California. People were searching for something better and wanting to save the planet. Ordinary people got interested in spiritual religions and meditation from India and Tibet.  It was a time of awakening that brought along with it a new kind of music!

Where does your lyrics/musics creative drive come from? How do you want your music to affect people?

I want my music to uplift and educate the listener in a positive way. I am always amazed where a song comes from? It can be something that somebody says or a sudden burst of inspiration that manifests a complete song in my mind that I have to write down or record before it goes away. It's a mystery where a song really comes from? John Lennon called it 'Automatic Writing', you just don't know when or where a song is going to come, and if you are interrupted it can just vanish! It's a gift that I consider myself so lucky to have and I'm so thankful that it continues. My band and I finished a new album titled 'Oceans Of Intelligence' that we hope will be released in the near future when record labels are back in business releasing new recordings when COVID is cured. God Bless And Help Us!

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