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John Tatum: January 2009

Interview by SickthingsUK

John Tatum

Early last year [2008] I received an email from original Earwigs/Spiders guitarist John Tatum correcting a couple of things I had about him on this site, and we got chatting about the early days of the band. John had a lot of interesting stuff to say so I asked and he agreed to do this interview exclusively for STUK to give fans some background on the early days in the last 60s and John himself, one of the founder members of the band that would become Alice Cooper. Enjoy.

SickthingsUK: It's often stated in the past that when the band first formed, as The Earwigs, only Glen could actually play an instrument but that isn't correct is it. You mentioned to me that you and Glen used to jam together before the band formed, and that the first drummer, Phil Wheeler, was a 'great drummer'. When did you start playing?

John Tatum: Yes, Glen was the only one that had actually paid a teacher to learn his instrument. I was playing rhythm guitar, and Vince, Speer, Dunaway had never played anything. It was decided after the first "engagement" --> Letterman's Club Talent Show, that during the following summer, Dennis would get a Bass, and Speer would get some drums, and Vince would work on his harmonica, and we would get together in Glen's garage, and my living room to continue the existence of what we had started.

STUK: How did you meet the rest of the band?

JT:: I met them at the talent show rehearsals, and didn't pay much attention to any of them the 3 of them being "jocks". Glen and I were the "hoods--trouble makers", and the only cool ones at that point. Hey, Glen & I drank beer on the weekends!!! Just a side note, we never even had a concept of "getting high" back then, and I never even knew pot, or any hard drugs existed until I was 20 years old, way after my stint with the Spiders. Obviously, Vince-Dennis, and Speer were athletes, and the concept of getting high was not in our vocabularies back then.

The Letterman ShowSTUK: What are you memories of that first Letterman's talent show in 1964 when the band wore Beatles wigs?

JT:I think Vince's Mom made the jackets we wore, gold with black, and I remember the wigs, but couldn't say where they came from? It was great actually performing in front of an audience, for the first time.

STUK: Alice says in 'Me, Alice' that track coach Emmet Smith was actually a member of the band at the beginning. However nothing else does. What was Smith's involvement, if any?

JT: As far as I knew, Smith was Never actually in the band, and as far as I knew, Smith could have cared less about the band, but Vince-Dennis, and Speer had the contact with him, so I wouldn't know what they had said, and I would not know how they might have included him.

STUK: An early Earwigs press bio mentions a Nick Sataslow as 'manager of the Earwigs'. Who was Nick?

JT: Nick was a friend of Glen's, and a real smart a*s. He would crack us all up, and any involvement he may have had to get a gig for us would have been merely a humorous gesture to include him, or this happened without my actually knowing about it, as I was not overly concerned with those details at that point.

STUK: By summer 1965 the band had learned how to play better and were playing shows all around the Phoenix area, coming into contact with Jack Curtis who ran the V.I.P. club. How important was Curtis in pushing the band forward?

The Spiders At The VIPJT: Curtis was the Major reason the band ever had any chance to do Anything professional. Before the VIP, we played a few dive bars (without Vince--as his dad was a preacher, and he was not allowed to join us at first, but later, he did play the Red Dog in Scottsdale with us, among other dates).
We finally did get an audition at the VIP club, and we all thought it did not go so good, as we did not hear back from Curtis. At 17, I was going to bars, or clubs with bands, and I went to the VIP 1 night, several weeks after our initial audition, and ran in to Curtis at the VIP, and he excitedly exclaimed, "where have you guys been??? I have been looking everywhere for you guys to headline at the VIP club. Why didn't you contact me sooner?" I told him we thought He would call Us back. I had a meeting with Curtis, and got the guys to come back to the VIP for a second audition, and this is when he/Jack said that the name - The Earwigs did not work for him and that we needed to change it. That moment is when the name was changed to "The Spiders" (we insisted on keeping the insect theme as the Beatles were the biggest band in the world).
Jack then built a special stage for us with a spider web in the front, and we were the "house band for a long time, with other bands playing at a stage set-up at the other end of the club. These months were when we opened for the Hollies-Byrds-and Yardbirds-with Jeff Beck, and we also played the first concert at the Memorial Coliseum, and again with the Byrds there. What a rush to play to thousands at age 17...When we first got to play the VIP club, Curtis was going through me to communicate with the band, and he bought me my first car-- 56 chevy--and I had told him that I did not even own a guitar amp (glen and I plugged in to his amp together), and he bought me my first amp. Those were amazing times for us (a bunch of kids) and we even were in a Play at the Celebrity Theater with Jan Murray called Bye Bye Birdie, and Jan was Conrad, and we were the Birdies [More Later].

STUK: What sort of material was the band playing back then?

JT: We had the lead singer/ back up band thing goin', like the Stones, and Yardbirds, and in fact we played music that featured a lead singer with almost no harmonies, like Rolling Stones and Yardbird songs.

Question from Mr.Make Believe: What were your favorite tracks/covers the band played or rehearsed at that time.

JT: I remember the energy of the Yardbird's and Stones songs, but I do not remember any song titles.

STUK: Very early on it seems the idea of incorporating a theatrical element into the show surfaced. There are photos of The Spiders playing behind a large spider web [Mentioned above], and even a guillotine on stage. Where did these ideas come from?

JT: I was definitely a part of the VIP Spider web stage, but later, after I was not in the band, they met Frank Zappa, and this is when they changed the name to Alice Cooper, and got in to the bizarre make-up and theatrics, including the guillotine.

The Spiders open for The YardbirdsSTUK: There's a famous story of the band opening for the Yardbirds, and playing a full set of Yardbirds songs before the headliners even got on stage. What was their reaction?

JT: This is a famous hoax, as we did play many Yardbird songs, but never an entire set. Hey, Jeff Beck was with them on that tour, and they could have cared less about what we might have, or might not have done.

STUK: Jack Curtis arranged for the band to record for the first time and in September '65 you released the first single, 'Why Don't You Love Me', a Blackwells cover, backed with Marvin Gaye's 'Hitchhike'. Who decided on those songs and what do you remember about recording for the first time?

JT: It was no big deal, we just went in and laid it down, but I do remember how amazing it was to hear ourselves on the radio, and they played the record for quite a while. For years I had a copy of that original acetate. Years later, when I was still playing in Bars, and starving, I sold that to a die hard fan, for next to nothing, and I always wondered what the very first "Spider/Cooper" Master recording might be worth??? go figure..?

STUK: When did the band start working on original material and did you contribute to that process?

JT: I recorded the first record with the Spiders, and was involved with helping write the first few songs, and of course, I never got any credit or $, but the only song I actually was a part of writing that I would ever claim credit for was "Don't Blow Your Mind"... I remember Vince coming up to me at that particular rehearsal, and asking me if I liked the lyrics, and did I have any ideas, and I did contribute to that song. We actually performed that song.

STUK: Both the Earwigs and The Spiders appeared on local TV show `Wallace and Ladmo'. How did you get the show and what do you remember about it?

JT: I remember doing it, but I have no details of how that happened. I attribute any dates or success we had to Jack Curtis' efforts. I am sure that he arranged most all of the opportunities we got when I was in the band.

STUK: In Spring 1966 the band got to provide the music for a stage production of 'Bye Bye Birdie' at the Phoenix Star Theater. How did that come about and what was it like playing in a situation like that as opposed to normal shows?

The Spiders in Bye Bye BirdieJT: We were in a play at the Celebrity Theater with Jan Murray called Bye Bye Birdie, and Jan was Conrad, and we were the Birdies (the original play featured a character called Conrad Birdie). This was over several weeks. The stage was round, and rotated constantly. I remember being on the stage and waiting downstairs until it was time to go on stage. What I remember most is the beautiful girls in the play. They were so gorgeous, and this was a huge thrill for me. I definitely fell in love with one of them, and she came to the VIP a few times...Amazing !

STUK: Summer of '66 saw you quit he band to join up with Bill Spooner, later of The Tubes, switching places with a certain Michael Bruce who replaced you in The Spiders. What did Spooner have to offer that The Spiders didn't... or in other words... why did you leave?

JT: When we first auditioned at the VIP club, and we thought that Jack hated us, this was partially because Spooners band auditioned before us, and they were "Vocally" incredible, beyond what we were (at least this figured in to us thinking that Jack might not possibly want us.) as they had the greatest harmonies I had ever heard out of a younger band. Later, as you know, we played dates with the Hollies, and the Byrds, and I was mesmerized by the incredible harmonies. I did get to be Bills friend later, and his band had always impressed me WAY more than the lead singer and back-up band, and I wanted to sing with Bill's band, and so I quit the Spiders.

STUK: Did you ever regret not staying with the band after they started to break through?

JT: `Wellll, the Spooner band (that I quit the Spiders to join), broke up after 3 months, and these guys turned out to be absolute morons ( not Bill, I love that guy), and I WAS PISSED!!!! I was so upset that months later, I took some of their (later to become the Tubes) band equipment, and hid it from them, so they would share some of my pain. Well they figured out that I had "re-located" their equipment, and they were ready to hang me, but I just told them where it was, so they did get it all back, but that was a VERY Stupid thing for me to do, and I have regretted doing that my entire life, as Bill would not even speak to me after that. I had given up everything for Spooners band, and then found myself completely out of any band, and I wanted revenge, and I got it for a short time, but I have always regretted not staying with Glen, and the Spiders, even if they had Not made it, I was very sad for many years. Soooo, the answer to your question is YES, I regretted not staying with them from the minute the Spooner band fell apart!!!, And, Buxton was so disappointed in me for quitting, and that above all issues broke my heart, when I realized the extent of my giving up my best friend, and you don't get many "best friends" in life.

I later watched the Alice Cooper band eat cheese and crackers to survive, for years, and I was damn proud of them, when they made it. I was already past PRAYING to get back with them. Oh yes, I made several efforts to get back with them, but , as with many stupid decisions, it was always too late. There is also the issue that Mike Bruce was a better singer, and guitar player, than I was, (at that time) and had I stayed, who knows if the magnitude of their success would have been as great? OK, I know they could have been bigger with me ( Just Kidding!!!! )

I will say, that I eventually got other bands together, and every time I heard another million-seller released by the Alice Cooper Band, I was inherently sad. I finally got over it, but I always compared myself to the drummer before Ringo [Pete Best] in the Beatles, as he had also quit before they made it.

STUK: Have you kept in touch with the guys or followed their careers?

JT: Vince and Dennis never warmed up to me, as I guess I was a real smart a*s back then, and I was only great friends with Glen Buxton, and never really took time to know Dennis, or Vince. Many people have said to me, why don't you call Alice, but I do not think that he ever cared for me, even when we were together. Personalities, Huh?

STUK: Did you like the direction the band ended up taking overall, specifically musically?

JT: I think you are asking if I liked the Alice Cooper music, and I have to say that if I had thought the Spiders music was that great, I would have never walked away. That being said, I have great respect for the originality of the hits, and the writing was very clever and original. Actually, Speer got to be a fairly good drummer, and the guy they got to replace him (Neal??) thought 'time" was a magazine. The only thing the new drummer could do was kick his drums over, and this was a big part of the "show", but they never claimed to be accomplished musicians. Vince/Alice later hired the greatest musicians when the original band was no longer together, but the band that made it was a product of great song writing, and the flash and trash and shock factor, of the show.

Christ Jesus Is The King(From Devon): From what I'm reading here on your site, you are very active in the church and religion. In relation to Alice, who himself is a christian, did you ever have a problem/disagree with the stuff Alice and the band were doing on stage, and what he still does on stage to this day?

JT:: I worship the God and person Jesus Christ. I believe in the Holiness of the Bible, and that the Bible was placed on the earth by Jesus. This is Not a "man-made" Religion. I do not consider myself "Religious". I do know that their are hundreds of "Christian "man made"-"Religions" but I place my faith in what the Bible says, Not what some person tells me. There is Miracle Power available from the Holy Spirit to overcome any issue, and this is what I write and sing about now, and guess what, eternity is a Long time, and this life is over, so quickly...Why would anyone not consider how they will choose to spend eternity?
One thing the Bible tells me is that I condemn myself, if I judge anyone else - Romans 2, and although I choose to not glorify evil by not wanting to take into my mind, demonic images, I, in No Way, will allow myself to judge what another person chooses to accept as "theatrical". God has blessed Alice with great wealth, and I believe the he definitely uses much of that wealth to help people, and God uses "the foolish things" to confound the "wise", and Vince/Alice Is a Christian, and this means that the Blood of Jesus covers what Alice chooses to do. I could never allow myself to point a finger, and decide what is right for someone else. This is what Religious People do. Jesus tells us (above all other things) to LOVE each other. I try to concentrate on that, and Not on Judging someone for their choices.

If you listen to my CD, (shameless plug) I have developed in to a fair guitar player, after all these years, and numerous bands, and I think Alice should hire me for a tour... why not...huh? Hey give the CD a listen...I have Many guitar solo's, as this was done completely by my wife and I !

From Mr.Make Believe: What kind of music do you like today?

JT: I like Concert Worship and Praise music. Meaning, when you add the name of Jesus to a song, the Holy Spirit consumes you in a way that other songs do not, and I still love the blazing guitars and pounding drums, and great harmonies, with the "Concert" edge. I always plan to lead people to accept Jesus, into their hearts.

John And Rebecca TatumSTUK: Rebecca and yourself now have the 'John Tatum Ministries'. Could you tell us more about it?

JT:The Bible tells us that those that call upon the Name of Jesus, Will be saved, or set apart to spend eternity with God. This is called salvation. Rebecca and I lead Worship and Praise at many different Churches, and Venues, and intend to invite as many people as God permits, to call upon the Name Above all Names, the name of Jesus Christ.
We have received awards for song-writing and we have several songs on compilation CD's, and are currently writing and recording a "Rock Opera" titled "Ordinary Day" about the day when Jesus comes back to earth, with all the armies of heaven, on just another "Ordinary Day". God has blessed us to also lead Worship with me only playing an acoustic guitar, as well as a full band.
This idea of how will anyone choose to spend eternity, is a BIG deal, and it is Never too late to call upon the Name of Jesus. Remember the thief on the cross, hanging next to Jesus, that he just acknowledged Jesus as the Savior, and Jesus said to the thief, that he would be with Him in Paradise, that very day.

STUK: Your album 'Christ Jesus Is The King' is available on a variety of internet sites for download. It seems you have embraced the new technology for music distribution. Do you feel this is a better way to go then the traditional record label/CD way?

JT: We thank God for all our blessings, and this is what He has us doing right now, but we are not opposed to any kind of distribution, as long as the music gets listened to, and the Power of the Holy Spirit consumes people that listen to the songs. This has always been our prayer, that people will experience the Anointing and Power of Jesus, when they listen, and this has been reported to us many times, by people that actually take time to actually listen to the songs. There is NO power on earth that can equal the Blessings of Jesus.

JT: Thank you for asking me to offer "my version" of what happened when I was with Alice and Glen.

STUK: Thank YOU John for taking the time to chat to us!

John's CD " Christ Jesus Is The King" is available now at CDBaby where you can also listen to clips.