1. Question: Who were the most important influences on you musically?
Answer: You’ve really asked me three distinct questions here. The most important influences on me vocally are Rick Nelson, the Everly Brothers, and Paul McCartney.
Instrumentally, during my very early years, it would have to be listening to my Uncle Bob Fulton playing “Moonlight Sonata” on piano that really bonded me with music. Then, there are Duane Eddy, Lonnie Mack, Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Muddy Water, Elmor James, and Eric Clapton. A photo from the 1950s "Ozzie and Harriet Show" with Ricky Nelson appears on this page, to the right of this Q & A.
From a composition standpoint, my influences most certainly include Beethoven and Brahms, Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” and Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. I love the music just before the rumble scene, where multiple songs-- “Tonight” and “We’re Gonna Rock It Tonight”--come together.
I like music that is audience-friendly. Really-great music captivates and soothes the audience rather than bullies the audience’s ear. It is not intrusive or invasive.
2. Question: How do you compose your own music if you can’t read music? Where do your ideas for songs come from?
Answer: I taught myself music, first the piano, then the guitar off the piano. I learned by ear, so I know how the music is supposed to sound. I don’t read the musical notation, I simply look at the pictures. Music theory is based a lot on math, I’m not good at math. I remain open to new experiences and different people, and sometimes my feelings from such encounters provide material that evolves into a song.
I’ve written some songs in five minutes. Other songs come in pieces over the years. Sometimes, I think, “Oh, that was a good part,” and I marry it with other pieces. Eventually a complete song emerges out of the process.
When I come up with a melody, if it’s truly catchy and memorable, I’ll remember it. I don’t have to write down or record a good melody to recall it. And some songs are written in stages, maybe music first, then the lyrics–perhaps days, weeks, months, or even years later. And sometimes I borrow from an earlier song I’ve already composed to complete a new one. Other times, earlier songs get altered and improved, and evolve into entirely new ones.
To write good lyrics, the trick is always having a pencil handy. Whenever I get a great idea for lyrics, I have to write it down, wherever I happen to be at the moment. I’ve been known to jot down a few lines on the wall, on a receipt from a gas station, and even on a table cloth, whatever happens to be available. I don’t let good lyrics escape. I never know when an idea for a melody or lyric are going to come to me. Often, they arrive at the most unexpected times, like while I’m driving, mowing the lawn, eating dinner, or even in the shower. I don’t even have to be near the piano or guitar at the time. I’ve never set aside a specific block of time to compose with paper and pencil in hand.
3. Question: How did you get together with John Shiely and the folks at Briggs and Stratton?
Answer: A mutual friend, Kevin Brandt, is a co-host of a radio show in Milwaukee on WKLH. Kevin is a third party on the “Dave and Carol Show.” I was painting the guest house on our property, listening to their show, which was airing live on location at a site nearby my house. I put down my paint brush and went over to the location. That day, the show was promoting a company called Fun Jets.
During the break, Kevin walked over to me. I introduced myself and mentioned that I enjoy the show’s humor. To my surprise, Kevin said, “I knew who you are, what you’ve been part of, and I’ve followed your career.” He mentioned that he would like to get together with me sometime.
I met with him later, and we formed a small acoustic group consisting of Kevin, a talented girl named Anjl Rodee, and myself. We performed at a series of events and had a lot of fun. One night, Anjl could not join us, so Kevin and I performed as a duo at the Ale House in Milwaukee. During one of the breaks, Kevin introduced me to his long-time friend John Shiely and his son, Michael.
John Shiely was not only the CEO and President of Briggs and Stratton, he was also a fellow guitar player. We talked for a while, at which time John mentioned that when he was young, he followed the Destinations at the CYO dances. John hung around for a while, and left as we were performing the song “Temptation Eyes” acoustically. As John and his son left, he gave us a “thumbs up” gesture.
Later, I talked to a mutual friend, Dave Kennedy. I mentioned to him that I had met a great guy, John Shiely, the night before. Dave replied, “I always wanted to get the two of you guys together. Let’s start now.” And Dave gave me John’s phone number. I called John on the direct line right to his office at Briggs and Stratton. He answered. I said, “It’s me, Reed Kailing.” For the next couple of hours, I enjoyed one of the most exhilarating and informative conversations about music and life in general that I’d had in a long time.
Photo from the 1950s "Ozzie and Harriet Show" with Ricky Nelson.
4. Question: What’s it like to record in a Nashville studio?
Answer: Laying down tracks at a studio in Nashville is really no different than recording anywhere else. Nashville is just a unique environment with its own atmosphere and aura, so to speak. And Nashville has some great studio musicians. Other than that, there’s really no difference.
5. Question: Of all the bands you’ve played with, the Destinations, Hardy Boys, Grass Roots, Player, Broadway Beatlemania, Badfinger, which was the most fulfilling musically?
Answer: Without a doubt, the band I enjoyed performing with the most was Badfinger. It had all the energy of performing with a garage band. It was great. I loved the sound and the whole experience.
6. Question: What was your purpose and how did you come to develop this website?
Answer: CD sales are flat and falling. Today’s music fans refuse to spend $20 for a CD that contains one listenable song. Much of the music-listening audience, especially the age 50+ audience, is left cold. The concept for this website is to provide a live venue for bands for these audiences.
Working with Penny Kailing my wife, Paul Novotny a musician/songwriter and recording technician, Carlos Barragan IT Project Designer, and Rick Wozniak a marketing professional and faculty member, I realized that I had an archive of unheard music that I composed earlier while working with other groups (such as the Grass Roots and Player) or co-composed with other artists (such as Don Johnson and KiKi Dee). These songs were either never used or never recorded as finished products. Until recently, most of them only existed in demo form.
Research data documented the fact that since August 2005, my demos have been on the top-ten countdown of Broadjam.com, which is based in Madison, Wisconsin. My demos, while still in rough form, had been thoroughly market tested and were receiving hits and downloads from all over the world, including Australia, Japan, the U.K., Russia and many places where I have never been. Audience data showed these hits and downloads crossed demographic categories. The tunes appealed to Generation X and Y, as well as Baby Boomers.
Hence, my goal is to create a hub where a broad spectrum of music lovers can congregate, a virtual clearing house for all kinds of music-related downloads. The concept is to provide a dynamic and interactive website that hosts music, biographies, interviews, photos, and more.
7. Question: What brought you back into the recording studio after a hiatus?
Answer: As mentioned earlier, I had an archive of unheard music that I composed earlier while working with other groups or co-composed with other artists. These songs were either never used or never recorded as finished products. Until recently, most only existed in demo form. Audience research data documented the appeal of these songs around the world.
I decided to return to Nashville in order to record these songs as well as some newer original material in finished form. These songs will soon be available, both the demos and final mixes, to music listeners globally.
8. Question: What’s your all-time favorite Grass Roots song?
Answer: I like them all, or at least most of them, maybe some better than others. But if I had to pick out one, it would be “Temptation Eyes.”
9. Question: How did the group Player come about?
Answer: The prelude to Player is an interesting story. I formed the group Player out of contacts I had made while with the Grass Roots. Upon leaving the Grass Roots in 1975, I took a year off to detox from the rigors of touring. During that hiatus, I took some badly-needed personal time to relax and, in the process, build a huge radio-controlled airplane. At the point of realizing it was time to return to work, I received a phone call from Warren Entner, formerly an original member of the Grass Roots who left the group at about the same time I did. Warren had invested in a company called GTO, out of England, that had set up offices on Beverly Boulevard, in West Hollywood. Warren had joined ranks with David Joseph, who headed up GTO. I agreed to join in on a meeting with what was left of a band known as Skyband. I went to their offices at the ICM Building and met David Joseph and two of the members of Skyband, Peter Beckett and Steve Kipner. Warren had mentioned that Skyband had been signed to a multi-album deal with RCA records. I was to replace Lane Caudell in the three-man band. The group, as I remember, still had another album to complete in order to fulfill its obligations to RCA. I began to feel somewhat uncomfortable with David Joseph, as he continuously flipped his Dunhill cigarettes and matching Dunhill lighter on the table. He was talking down to me. “Yes, you were lead guitar player in the Grass Roots,” he said, “but here is an opportunity to really shine.” Becoming increasingly ill at ease, I asked Mr. Joseph, “What would be my financial participation with the group?” To my surprise, if I recall correctly, as I glanced at Steve and Peter, I was told that the group had accumulated a $380,000 deficit. After a moment or two of thought, I looked at David Joseph and asked, “Does this mean that I would be equally involved in debt?” To my astonishment, his answer was an arrogant, “Yes.”
At that point, I looked around the room, thanked Warren (who even today I still consider a good friend) for thinking of me as a possible colleague in this venture. Then I looked at David Joseph and said, “I don’t think this is for me.” I thanked him and stood up. We shook hands, and I made my way to the elevator. Waiting for the elevator, I heard the thumping of footsteps behind me. I turned around, and to my surprise, saw Steven and Peter approaching me. They then proceeded to say, “Mate, what do you know that we don’t know?” I replied, “You guys are really in debt, and I just don’t want to share your debt.” I added, “I live down the street from here; if you want to get together, we can sit down and talk.” They accepted my invitation and agreed to meet later that afternoon at my house on Lloyd Street in West Hollywood.
Peter and Steve showed up. They sat down with an inexpensive bottle of Almandine wine, and had a few. After discussing the situation further for a while, we got kind of tired and proceeded to pick up an acoustic guitar and started fooling around. It’s pleasing to note that we really did enjoy each other’s company. But reality set in. They came to realize that they were stuck in a solid contract. I had a friend who was an attorney. His name was Bruce Grakel. Bruce had clients such as Jimmy Webb, Harry Nilsson, and Ringo Starr, just to name a few. My wife at the time, Patty, got to know Bruce and his wife Ronnie well and socialized often. On one occasion when we were together, I happened to tell Bruce about the situation that Peter and Steven faced with GTO. Being the good friend that Bruce was, he assured me that he would investigate the matter from a legal perspective.
After some legal maneuvers, we did find a legitimate and ethical way to move forward, and Steve Kipner, Peter Beckett, and I succeeded in creating a viable band, under its first name Riff Raff.
10. Question: Are Reed Kailing and Creed Bratton the same person? I heard somewhere that the name “Creed” was an alias that you used to record under--C for the K of Kailing plus your first name.
Answer: No, we are not the same person. In fact, Creed currently appears as a character on the popular TV show known as “The Office” on NBC. Creed and I have met and giggle over the fact that people confuse our identity. We are friends.
11. Question: Is it true that you attended one of Paul McCartney’s birthday parties? What was it like?
Answer: The ordinary answer would be it was like a dream come true. But the way I would answer is that it was matter of fate. Having been such a great fan and having everyone around me call me “Reedle the Beatle” or just plain “Reedle,” it was an extraordinary evening. We struck it off well enough that I had a private audience with him.
I recall hearing once during an interview with David Essex, the 1970s pop star, that when you were introduced to Linda through Paul, you were “in.” We got along famously, had a great evening, and everybody who was anybody was there. We met around 9:00 that evening. I walked out of that party at sunrise. A line of people were exiting and saying goodbye to Paul and Linda. When I approached Paul to shake his hand, he said, “Reed, pleasure meeting you.”
12. Question: I heard that you and a number of artists recorded with John Lennon on his famous “Rock and Roll” album, but are not listed on the album credits. Who were some of the other uncredited performers?
Answer: None of the artists who performed were credited, and I don’t know if any of the specific tracks I played on are present on the actual album. I don’t think there is any way to know. Some of the other uncredited performers include Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, Jack Ruth from Cream, Harry Nilsson, and Donnie Dacus of Chicago, just to name a few.
13. Question: Were there two performing casts for the Broadway production of Beatlemania? How did the casts rotate?
Answer: Yes, there were two Beatlemania casts, but we didn’t alternate for performances per se. As you might suspect, out of professional jealousy, the folks in New York didn’t appreciate having the L.A. cast appear on stage.
In the New York cast, the Lennon character was Joe Pecorino, the McCartney character was Mitch Weissman, the Harrison character was Leslie Fradkin, and the Ringo character was Justin McNeill. The Los Angeles cast consisted of Joe Pecorino as Lennon, Mitch Weissman as McCartney, Leslie Fradkin as Harrison, and Justin McNeill as Ringo. We became known as Bunks 1 and 2 respectively.
As things happened, on the evening prior to hosting a major sponsor, Mitch and Joe literally blew out their voices from overextending their vocal capacities. When Steve Leber (of the management team Leber and Krebs) and Abe Jacob, the sound designer, scrambled to find a solution. I offered a suggestion and wound up singing for Mitch, who lip-synched his part on stage. I came to replace Mitch on an ongoing basis.
I sensed some resentment from both the New York and L.A. cast members over appearing on the Broadway; but there’s also another important point. When I went on to perform with the New York cast, I had to sing Mitch’s parts, which were the low Harrison parts. Joe would sing the Lennon parts, and Leslie would sing the high McCartney parts. On the other hand, when I performed with the L.A. or Bunk 2 cast, I sang the McCartney part, P.M. Howard sang the Harrison part, and Randy Clark sang the Lennon part. You know what? I had to know multiple roles, and I really got tired of it.
Once when asked to fill in for Mitch, I came to realize that I was saving the show from going dark. I simply got tired of it. I was doing the job of two people. I called a meeting with Joe Pecorino, Leslie Fradkin, and Justin McNeill and said, “Look, if you won’t allow the L.A. cast to go on, but you want me to sub for Mitch, I have no problem with that. But I’m going to sing the McCartney part. Leslie, you’re going to sing the Harrison part. Joe, do what you do.” The cast agreed, and we did some great work together. Of course, all of this created animosity with the other members of the L.A. cast.
Later, the New York cast opened up in Los Angeles at Century City. After a brief hiatus, I resumed my Beatlemania role at the Pantagas theater in L.A.
14. Question: How did you come to tour with Badfinger?
Answer: The guys from Badfinger were in Milwaukee at the time. I got a phone call from a gentleman who was more or less managing the business affairs of Bob Jackson, Tom Evans, and Mike Gibbins. He mentioned that Tommy and the guys wanted to form a band to tour. He asked if I had any interest. Being a Badfinger fan, I said, “Absolutely.” Then things came to a screeching halt with the following question, “Do you play slide guitar?” I replied, “No, I just play lead; but I know a guy in California who plays incredible slide guitar.” The guys from Badfinger wanted to keep expenses down. I told them the guy I had in mind was Donnie Dacus, the lead guitar player for Chicago and other groups. The conversation then shifted to “Do you think you can get him?” I gave it my best shot, and it all came together.
15. Question: Were you around when Tom Evans committed suicide?
Answer: Yes, I was. I got an overseas phone call from Tom. He was quite exuberant and asked, “Would you like to go back on tour?” I replied, “That all depends. I basically broke even on the last tour, and I knew we did so well that we were worth at least twice as much as were getting.” Tom indicated, “I totally agree with you, mate; but we have a problem. Business-wise, someone behind the scenes screwed up things so royally that we would be digging ourselves out of a hole.” “Tommy,” I said, “I love you, and I’m sure I speak for Donnie Dacus as well, but it’s just not in the cards.”
I can’t recall how long it was thereafter, but I do remember where I was when I received the horrific phone call. A mutual friend of Tommy and myself found me at my guest home in Mequon. He said, “Reed you may want to sit down. I have some terrible news.” I inquired, “What’s the problem?” He said, “Tommy’s gone. He hung himself yesterday.” It took me a long time to shake that day off.
16. Question: I heard that the Destinations played for a former presidents’ daughter’s engagement party. What’s the story?
Answer: Due to the Destinations soaring popularity, we received a call inquiring whether we would be interested in performing a show at the Milwaukee Athletic Club for the engagement party of Linda Baines Johnson, who was engaged to Charles Robb, a Milwaukee native. We agreed. Of course, all of this was contingent upon conducting a Secret Service investigation on each member of the band. As things turned out, we all passed the security check and enjoyed a wonderful evening. I picked out a song, the Beatles’ “And I love her” to be specifically dedicated to Linda and Charles. Linda was so impressed with my Beatle performance that she asked to meet with me upon the evening’s completion. We met, and that marked the end to a glorious evening.
17. Question: What’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked?
Answer: A woman once asked me. “Didn’t you used to be Reed Kailing?” My reply, “Yes, and I still am.”
18. Question: What was your most embarrassing moment on stage.
Answer: Something happened twice during Badfinger performances. I used to wear skin-tight satin slacks. I couldn’t even wear underwear for fear of showing lines. On one occasion, I was running up the stage ramp for an encore. I tripped at the top step and split my pants from front to back. At that point, they were held together only by the waist band. That pair of pants now hangs on the wall of a club somewhere in the Midwest.
The second incident was worse. I had another pair of the same-style, tight-fitting slacks. At the time, we were performing the second song of a show. Standing next to me on stage was Donnie Dacus. We were feeling quite exuberant. I did a karate-like kick with my right leg. Wouldn’t you know it, once again my pants split from stem to stern. I turned my back to look at Donnie. He cracked up so loudly, I could hear him over the music. I proceeded to play an hour-and-a-half show with a very low-hung guitar. I didn’t dare turn my back to the audience.
19. Question: I heard somewhere that you had a close encounter with Jim Croce just before he died tragically in a plane crash. What’s the story?
Answer: It was a very hot day. The Grass Roots and crew had just flown into a small airport somewhere in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Another plane also arrived; traveling on that flight were Jim Croce and his party. Both Jim and the Grass Roots recorded on the ABC Dunhill label. Croce had just finished a concert at Northwestern State University's Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches. Jim was loved by us and by millions of loyal fans.
There seemed to have been some confusion, and I was not paying 100 percent attention at the moment. As things turned out, at the airport, there was only one aircraft available for hire and one station wagon for rent. We were exhausted from the rigors of touring. The same was true for the folks traveling with Jim. We wanted the plane to travel about 80 miles north. Croce’s people were headed south.
Joking back and forth, Rob Grill told Jim something like, “I think we should get the plane because we have more hits than you; ha, ha, ha.” Jim replied in typical Croce fashion, “Yea, but I’ve got the bigger record out right now.” Our road managers attended to working out the details.
There were two agents aboard the flights, both out of the Variety Theater located in Minneapolis. The gentleman who was traveling with Jim happened to be our agent; and the guy traveling with us was the agent for Croce. Croce’s agent, I believe, was once part of the local Chicago group known as the Mauds. In any case, while at the airport, the agents decided to switch and travel with their own parties. My recollection of everything else seemed to melt away in the heat of the day.
I still have the touring jacket that I wore that day. There was some change in one pocket. Things came down to flipping a coin over the plane ride. I recall reaching into my pocket and tossing a quarter to our road manager, Richard Grodee. The next thing I knew, we had lost the flip and had hit the road in our rental car.
The very next day, September 20, 1973—the same day that Croce's single "I Got a Name" was released—Jim Croce, Maury Muehleisen, and four others were killed in a plane crash in Natchitoches, Louisiana. They were then taking that chartered Beechcraft E18S flight to Sherman, Texas in order to play a concert at Austin College. Upon takeoff, the plane did not gain enough altitude and crashed into a pecan tree at the end of the runway. According to the official report, the 57-year-old charter pilot had suffered a heart attack. Later that day, we heard the horrific news of the plane crash that claimed the life of Jim and his party. Croce is buried at Haym Salomon Cemetery in Malvern, Pennsylvania. Muehleisen is buried at Saint Mary's Cemetery in Trenton, New Jersey. Their memory and music live on in the hearts of their fans.
20. Question: I heard that you were friends with the late Bob Collins and that you’ve been interviewed a couple times on the air by Spike O’Dell. Any comments?
Answer: I first came to know Bob Collins back in the1960s, when he was a deejay at WOKY radio in Milwaukee. Bob was one of the most talented deejay-comedians and entertainers I’ve ever met. He was pure genius. Back then, he also hosted a local music show, on Sunday nights I believe. The day of his tragic demise was indeed a sad day for radio. His place in radio’s Hall of Fame is well deserved.
I came to know Spike O’Dell through Bob. At the time, Spike had the late afternoon slot at WGN; Bob had the early morning slot. After years of listening to Bob regularly but not seeing him, I took a trip to Chicago, calling Bob ahead of time about meeting with him. Bob graciously replied, “Absolutely.” That same day, he introduced me to Spike O’Dell.
21. Question: What was the relationship between the Destinations and the Robbs? One source claims they were the same group.
Answer: No, the Destinations and the Robbs were two separate bands. The original Destinations was a five-man band, consisting of Bruce Robertson on bass, Sid Rice on keyboards, Fred Hadler on drums, Rick Wolfe as lead singer, and myself on lead guitar and singing background vocals. There were some personnel changes and substitutions over time. The final four-man group consisted of Bill Wilson on bass, Rick Sorgel on keyboards, Fred Hadler on drums, and myself as lead singer and lead guitarist.
The Robbs consisted of three brothers--Dee Robb on vocals and guitar, Bruce Robb on keyboards, and Joe Robb on guitar, as well as their cousin Craig Robb on drums. Dee Donaldson of the Robbs, a band that was also managed by Con Merton, came on board as producer when the Destinations recorded “Hello Girl” at Chess Studios on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago for the Destination label.