Q&A with Prog legends Happy The Man, regarded as one of the most legendary progressive rock bands of all time

"Music is the one force that can bring humanity together. We can change minds and hearts by being advocates for love and light. I believe social media is responsible for most of the divisive misinformation in this world and a song like Only Love can only help spread Love and Light to the world if your hearts and minds are open. My wish is for this song to go 'viral' and use our social media for good!"

Happy The Man: Progressive Rock Love

Prog legends Happy The Man have returned with the release of a new single, “Only Love,” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 15, 2024. The song is from the band’s highly anticipated forthcoming album of the same name. Stanley Whitaker, Ron Riddle, Michael Beck, and Rick Kennell have reunited and recorded a phenomenal new song promising to please fans of the band and prog fans worldwide. Born out of the intensely creative and artistic art rock and fusion movements of the 70s, Happy The Man is regarded as one of the most legendary progressive rock bands of all time. Although Happy The Man only released two official albums before breaking up, their impact continues to endear the group to a cult following that has been growing ever since. With the passing of many years, Happy The Man’s music has demonstrated a timeless quality that suggests that it was ahead of its time and beyond this world.

(Photo: Happy The Man - Stanley Whitaker, Ron Riddle, Michael Beck, and Rick Kennell)

Original members Stanley Whitaker (guitar) and Rick Kennell (bass guitar) first met in Germany. They soon returned to the US, enlisting Frank Wyatt (keyboards, saxes, flute), Kit Watkins (keyboards), and Mike Beck (drums). They created two of the most deeply admired prog-rock albums of all time on Arista Records: “Happy The Man” (1977) and “Crafty Hands” (1978), with Ron Riddle taking over drumming from Mike Beck.

Interview by Michael Limnios           Special Thanks: Billy James (Glass Onyon PR)

How has the music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Stanley: Our music has always been difficult to describe but we've always tried to be somewhat unique and different from the majority of prog rock bands. I would say that now it's more the world influencing the music. I would add that the journey has been very frustrating with our type of music but very rewarding spiritually.

Ron: I grew up in a time where music was revolutionary. I was able to see first hand how powerful music is. How It can evoke change. Music can bring people together or start a revolution! Seeing this at a pretty young age cemented my commitment to it. I knew then that it was all I was interested in and all I wanted to do. It was everything to me. It has influenced every decision I’ve ever made. As a touring musician, music has taken me to many different countries around the world, meeting many awesome people. It’s been a journey that has been both internal and external. Through commitment and hard work the rewards have been more than I can count. My view of the world is that it will probably always be in conflict. That seems to go hand in hand with evolution and growth. Music has always been my shelter from the storm. It’s been the vehicle for keeping me sane in an insane world.

Michael: First and foremost is to be true to who you are as a musician, and to the music your band is creating. Happy The Man crafted music from our hearts and soul, working together, and supporting each other’s individual ideas, talent, and creativity to develop a harmonious, positive sound. This is something I have tried to carry with me my entire career.                                          

How do you describe your sound and band’s music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

Stanley: I think our sound and philosophy was always quite orchestral in nature and we were fortunate to have 3 very different writers, but it all managed to sound like the same band once we worked up the arrangements together. We always strived for perfection with our arrangements, and we rehearsed 6-8 hours every day to achieve that. Our philosophy was basically each band member had to be happy with their own individual parts. Our creativity always came from spirit and soul.

"First and foremost is to be true to who you are as a musician, and to the music your band is creating. Happy The Man crafted music from our hearts and soul, working together, and supporting each other’s individual ideas, talent, and creativity to develop a harmonious, positive sound. This is something I have tried to carry with me my entire career." [Photos: Only Love (2024), Happy the Man (1977), Crafty Hands (Arista 1978), 3rd - Better Late... (recorded 1979; released 1990)]

Why do you think that Happy The Man music legacy continues to generate such a devoted following?

Stanley: I believe we managed to catch lightning in a bottle on both Arista albums which made them timeless in my opinion. Not following trends but creating magic. Magic is timeless. We can only hope and pray it continues to grow. We were so unique that you either loved us or didn't... but somehow our music has persevered.

Ron: HTM’s music touches the soul. There is a timelessness to the music, a sense of selflessness and Godlike wonderment. It's like witnessing the power of a thunderstorm. It’s as if God said … Go make the most amazing, beautiful, powerful music you can without the slightest nod to what is popular or commercial. I think our fans are people who take the path less taken and we are without a doubt, the path less taken! We thank them for taking that path!

Michael: With a lineup of open minded, respectful musicians, hours of rehearsal, persistence, with intent on achieving a style of their own, and, doing so, we made music that seems to carry a happiness thru-out the years.

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

Stanley: Getting signed to Arista Records while Peter Gabriel was looking at us to be his backup band was probably the biggest highlight! We were huge Peter fans but he wanted us exclusively and we had Arista Records finally offering us a deal and he didn't want to share us so we made the decision to go with Arista and follow our hearts. Getting back together to create new music is a definite highlight. Having both Arista albums remastered at Air London for an upcoming release is also a big highlight. Getting the rights back to our music for this re-release is another one!

Ron: There have been so many of those moments. I'll narrow it down to 3: One was seeing the Beatles on TV for the first time. The second was hearing Egor Stravinski's Rite of Spring for the first time. The third was a concert at Symphony Hall in Boston where Seiji Ozawa was conducting the Boston Symphony performing Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin. It was so intense, I thought I was going to jump off the balcony where I was sitting! I've been blessed with an abundance of highlights, to name a few are: Studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston - where I was in 13 different music ensembles - symphony orchestras, an opera company, small jazz groups, big bands, Zappa type rock bands. I was like a kid in a candy store! Working with “Richard and the Rabbits” (which became the Cars), Rick Ocasik & Ben Orr & Greg Hawkes. Working with “Blue Oyster Cult”. Working with Mick Ronson (guitarist producer, David Bowie). Working with Happy the Man/ Ken Scott, recording the “Crafty Hands” record. Currently the highlight is back working with Happy The Man! As a composer, a real highlight was composing “A Journey Within” which is an hour long full length symphony.  This was an amazing and inexplicable experience for me. 

I went to the keyboard one day and all of a sudden, I was writing in a classical/modern classical style (which had never happened before) I woke up the next day and it started all over again almost as if I was channeling music. Along with the music I was also flooded with images. Some were memories of my own life and some that felt like another lifetime, or lifetimes in different periods of history. This continued for a full year. I stopped all outside gigs and worked non-stop on it for an entire year! At the end, I had created a full-length symphony in 4 movements. Talk about journeying to different worlds without ever leaving your home! What a magical time! I received a New York artist grant to finish the piece. Also, as a composer - a definite highlight was working in TV and film from1996 to 2011 as a film and TV composer. During that period, I was able to complete over 750 shows for the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, Disney, A&E, etc.

Michael: Being able to make a living as a professional musician, doing what I love, and bringing the joy, I feel, to others.

"HTM’s music touches the soul. There is a timelessness to the music, a sense of selflessness and Godlike wonderment. It's like witnessing the power of a thunderstorm. It’s as if God said … Go make the most amazing, beautiful, powerful music you can without the slightest nod to what is popular or commercial." (Photo: Happy the Man is an American progressive rock band formed in 1973. The name Happy the Man is a reference to Goethe’s "Faust" and the Bible, rather than the 1972 Genesis single.)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Stanley: I think what I miss most from that era is the use of our imagination. Before music videos and cell phones we had to use our own imaginations when listening to music. We could create our own imagery in our minds... I miss that. There was an innocence, purity, honesty and vulnerability to the music back then. We were writing music to express and share our hearts and souls, not to be commercial and just sell records. My hopes are we get back to some of that. Love will always conquer hate. My fears are we won't in this very divided world where hate, anger and violence have far too many advocates who know better but fear retribution. Shame on them. Use your voices... vote them out!                                           

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Stanley: Music is the one force that can bring humanity together. We can change minds and hearts by being advocates for love and light. I believe social media is responsible for most of the divisive misinformation in this world and a song like Only Love can only help spread Love and Light to the world if your hearts and minds are open. My wish is for this song to go 'viral' and use our social media for good!

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

Stanley: The most important lesson I've learned in this life is to follow your heart and dreams in spite of the consequences. If your reasons for doing music aren't honest and authentic, even if you're "successful" monetarily you won't be "rich" spiritually...

Ron: Always get paid upfront! Sorry I couldn't help myself. Haha, just kidding. I used to think that If I just got good enough at my instrument that alone would be enough to get me where I want to go. Then I would wonder why the phone didn’t start ringing. Being successful in music is a combination of the right time, right place and constantly showing up and being able to work with people.  Unfortunately, talent alone is not enough. These are some of the lessons I’ve learned: No one is going to make your career happen if you don’t. You have to take the bull by the horns and steer your destiny where you want it to go. Take responsibility for your actions. Follow your heart and trust yourself and your own vision.

Michael: Being a professional musician is not an easy task, let alone making a living at it. But, I would not trade it for anything. If you love what you do, know it is what you are meant to do, work hard at being the best person/musician you can, treat it as any other professional occupation, by being on time, having a positive attitude, respectful work ethic with everyone, and everywhere you perform, learn as much about the business as possible, be humble - but confident … you can make it happen.

Happy The Man - Home

(Photo: Born out of the intensely creative and artistic art rock and fusion movements of the 70s, Happy The Man is regarded as one of the most legendary progressive rock bands of all time.)

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