Founding fathers of heavy metal, that's how some refer to Iron Butterfly.
GARY JAMES talks to lead singer and keyboard player Doug Ingle.
| Iron Butterfly will be
forever remembered for their hit 'In A Gadda Da Vida'. Formed in 1966 they
have been identified as psychedelic rock, acid rock, underground, heavy rock
and heavy metal. In 1968 Iron Butterfly recorded the album 'In a Gadda Da
Vida' with the ground-breaking title track clocking in at 17:05. The song,
re-edited to a seven-minute version, remained on the billboard charts for
The original album out-sold every record in history within its first year of release. Atlantic Records awarded the band the label's first-ever platinum disc
GJ: Was Iron Butterfly the first of what we would call a heavy metal group?
DI: We've been accused of such. You know, as far as handles go, I refer often to 1967-1970 - prior to the Metamorphosis line-up - the Butterfly was pretty consistent in terms of the music we put out. You could tell it was Iron Butterfly, same as you could tell it was Chicago. So there was an identifiable sound in that 3-4 year period. Then you have Blue Cheer and Cream, who's heavy and whi isn't? Def Leppard once credited us as being the Father of Heavy Metal. The only reason I shy away from that reference is simply because I'm not convinced that I really like where heavy metal has gone.
GJ: Where did the name Iron Butterfly come from?
DI: Well, from yours truly. We were sitting around trying to make up group names. We wanted a melodic consciousness contained within the rock format. We wanted to broaden the horizons and be able to engage the dynamics and all that stuff. But at the same time doing it via the vehicle of electronic sound. It's mentioned on the first album that we wanted something light and heavy, versatile and colourful. So that's pretty much what we came up with. Insects were in at the time, what with The Beatles
GJ: You guys were working for 300 plus days a year, for two years. Where you were working and why did you have to work so hard?
DI: The bottom line is that we had given over complete control to our management. We were children among men, basically which is not uncommon for young rock personalities. At any rate their whole mindset was sell 'em while they're hot because they viewed us as more of a flash in the pan than a long-term band. We weren't individual stars. They figured it was a short-lived experience at best.
We would come home thinking we would finally realise our2 week vacation, only to find out that we had to leave in another 3 days for another month and a half or two and if we didn't the buyers would sue us.
I backed out in 1971. I just burned out. That's the problem when Ahmet (Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records) came because the Butterfly still owed Ahmet an additional album and I just walked away from the whole thing.
GJ: How long had you been with the group when you backed out?
DI: Well I formed it in August of 1966 , and I pulled out in December 1971.
GJ: That's a pretty good run?
DI: I'll say. I mean sleeping on office floors, initially 3, 4 sometime 5 shows a night, 6 nights a week. I loved being there at the time doing that. So it was pretty much an attitude of "I would have done it almost for free" (laughs).
GJ: When you were on the road, were you able to write at all?
DI: That was another frustration of mine. The deadlines, the release dates kept coming but all I was taking in - as far as my mental and emotional diet - was repetitiveness, whether that's on an airport terminal, a hotel lobby, waiting to find out if they can find our reservations or if they just don't like the way we look. In the late 60 it wasn't really a social convenience to be going around especially the mid-west with hair done to your tail-bone. It was interesting.
GJ: You were performing in places like the 'Whisky A Go Go'?
DI:Yeah. That was prior to our first national tour where we were contracted to support Jefferson Airplane.
GJ: What kind of a place was it?
DI: It was a real tourist trap. It was the place to go. When we finally got up to that neck of the woods on the Strip, keeping in mind we started way down between Hollywood and Sunset, down by Vine Street, we were basically a cover group committed to supplementing the cover tunes with original material as we went along. We began to work our way up the strip and we finally got on to the same block as The Whisky on the same side of the street called The Galaxy. Admittedly, the cover charge was less than what the Whisky was charging but it was a pretty good deal. If you just wanted to go to the Strip and not go broke and have a good time, you could go to the Galaxy and listen to the Butterfly.
Occasionally at weekends we'd lead off at The Galaxy for the Ike and Tina Turner Revue and other former headline acts. But the line of people queuing to get in would, at weekends, go down past the Whisky when they were having headliners such as Smokey Robinson And The Miracles and The Doors. This went down like a lead balloon with the Whisky. Eventually they hired us as their house band; that's when we started supporting everybody and his brother. It was at the Whisky that record labels started coming to see the band and eventually bid against each other to sign us. We'd already proven our underground marketability.
GJ: You opened for people like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane
DI: Buffalo Sprongfield, The Turtles, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Supremes and so on
GJ: And Janis?
DI: Oh yeah, at the Hollywood Bowl that was our first time with her.
GJ: Did you get a chance to meet and greet the people after the gig?
DI: Of course, like The Doors and all the groups at the Whisky we shared the same dressing room upstairs.
GJ: What can you tell us about Jim Morrison?
DI: One occasion might give you some clarity. One evening we were leading off with him at the Whisky. His folks came to the show and they were sitting front row, center. During the show he was of course way out there, the ultimate storyteller. You'd swear watching him that he's on something, but between shows he joine dhis folks and conversed with them in a very civilized and proper way, like he was a completely different person. That tells me that he was a performer and that the image he projects on stage really has precious little to do with him as a person offstage.
GJ: Were Jim's parents enjoying the show?
DI: They seemed to be.
GJ:You played at the Newport Pop Festival in 1968 with Jimi Hendrix. Did you get a chance to chat with him?
DI: Not at that particular venue. However when the Butterfly performed in Manhattan, whether that was Madison Square Garden, Central park or Fillmore East, often the underground groups that came throughwould go to an underground club after hours. There was a club called The speakeasy and it was literally underground. At the time I was dating the hat-check girl there (laughs). Buddy Miles would frequent the place, Traffic would go there often. Butterfly would go there often and jam. One evening Jimi cornered me in the men's bathroom and I think he was tripping at the time because he was looking up at the bathroom ceiling, attempting to describe to me his concept of anew project he wanted to pursuecalled Band Of Gypsies. I can't say I understood exactly what he was trying to represent but he did spend a good 10 to 15 minutes attempting to communicate to me.
Like Janis Joplin we did a pop festival outside of New Orleans but I didn't think Janis would acknowledge me as a person. Why? I don't know, probably because I know her as a rock star, you know (laughs). After she had left Big Brother, there was a time she came running up to me backstage threw her arms around me and said, 'Doug, why don't they like me?' I was kind of surprised that she was confiding in me. What the audience was expecting was Big Brother and 'A Piece Of My Heart'. I told her that what she was doing now was every bit as good as the past, but that she just needed to give the audience a little more time. They're coming to see a manifestation of what they've heard on record. She thanked me and went on her way.
It's a strange world out there. As we travel around the country it's kind of like a family. We didn't get alle xcited when we'd meet up with people and we didn't get all sad when we had to go our separate ways. We just trust that one day our paths would cross again.
GJ: 'In A Gadda Da Vida' was the song that made Iron Butterfly. Were there any other hit songs for the group?
DI: No not by any stretch of the imagination. It's the most recognisable song and the album 'Ball' was more or less successful on the back of it.
© 2002 Gary James. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.
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