June 30, 2024

From the Vaults: I. Ron Butterfly


     Okay, I now have further proof that 1967 was a long time ago.  When Doug Ingle passed away on May 25, 2024, I told one of the kids at school I was going to do an Iron Butterfly tribute.  It should not have surprised me when they asked, “Who?”  I went through all the reference points I could muster, “You know, In- A -Gadda-Da-Vida?”  I even sang the organ / guitar riff that drives the song (you will have to look it up – there is no way to translate the sound in print).  I got a blank stare followed by, “Nope, I don’t know that.”  

     Desperation led me to dig out a newer cultural touch point:  “Do you remember the Simpsons episode where Bart tricks the congregation into singing what Rev. Lovejoy announces as In The Garden of Eden by I. Ron Butterfly?”  Again, a blank stare.  After looking up the date of said Simpsons episode (Season 7, Episode 4 – Bart Sells His Soul – October 8, 1995), my student’s lack of familiarity with the reference made perfect sense.  Even my ‘up to date cultural references’ have been left behind for the younger generation.  Enough whining about getting old – let’s get on with the true purpose of this FTV:  a profile of a band that is still touring, just without any original members still on this side of the sod – Iron Butterfly.

     Doug Ingle was the founding vocalist and organ player when the band formed in San Diego in 1966.  Ingle was first a member of Jeri and the Jeritones and then the Palace Pages, the immediate precursor to Iron Butterfly.  The original members of Butterfly included Jack Pinney on drums, Greg Willis on bass and Danny Weis on guitar.  When vocalist Darryl DeLoach joined the band, his parent’s garage became the site of near nightly rehearsals.  The most notable personnel change was the addition of drummer Ron Bushy (formerly of the Voxmen) after the band relocated to Los Angeles.  In L.A., they began making regular appearances at the Galaxy Club and the Whisky a Go Go.

     Early 1968 found the band under contract to Atlantic Records and their first album, Heavy, was released on the Atco label on January 22, 1968.  When the rest of the band quit, Ingle and Bushy were faced with the prospect of not having a band to tour the new record.  They quickly recruited bassist Lee Dorman and 17 year old guitarist Eric Brann (or Braun).  There had been interest in the guitar slot from Jeff Beck, Neil Young and Michael Monarch (who would later join Steppenwolf), but Braun got the nod.  Some state that two of the band members (bassist Jerry Penrod and vocalist DeLoach) left the band after the new guitarist joined.  This version says they were not comfortable with Braun’s age and the amount of time it took him to learn the band’s songs.  Regardless of this popular lore, when the band was filled out again, the pieces of the band necessary to carry the Heavy load (pun intended) were now in place.  Former guitarist Weiss and Penrod would later go on to found the band Rhinoceros. 

      I found conflicting accounts of this period so suffice to say, in the period after Heavy was released, the classic era of Iron Butterfly began.  The result of this unit was their best known recorded work, the album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.  The title track had been written earlier when Ingle was in the process of putting away a gallon of red wine (and by this, I do not mean he was putting it on a shelf).  When he played it for Bushy, the drummer scribbled the lyrics as he heard them being slurred by the now inebriated organist.  Thus, In The Garden Of Eden more famously became In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida.  There is an urban legend that says the album length track was recorded when the studio engineer told them to keep playing as he adjusted the mics and mixing board levels.  Supposedly the engineer recorded the whole jam and it was so good the band used this rehearsal track on the album.

     Listening to the album version pretty well dispels this story as a myth.  Jeff Beck claimed he heard the band at the Galaxy Club six months before the Vida album was released.  Their second set that night was a 35-minute version of the song.  In the studio (Ultrasonic in Hempstead, NY), it was pared down to ‘only’ 17 minutes.  A single that cut out the extended solos clocked in at 2:52 and became the band’s only Top Forty hit (reaching No. 30) while the album climbed to No. 4 on the charts.  The album sold a remarkable 30 million copies.

     I have related in a previous FTV that there were two bands in the Marquette area performing the album’s title track.  East of Orange was arguably the most popular dance band in the area for many years and they did a spot on rendition of the album length track.  Orange played a two band bill with the more famous Marquette band The Excels (they had put out a couple of records) when I was a sophomore in high school.  The Orange guitarist at the time was a college kid from Detroit named Larry Kinsey whom I had jammed with the previous year.  Larry and his bass playing roommate wanted to keep their chops up during the school year in anticipation of summer gigs back home.  My parent’s basement across the street from their dorm made it convenient for them and a wonderful learning experience for me during my freshman year.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Larry playing with East of Orange the next fall.

     East of Orange ended their first set at the Armory with their showcase version of Vida.  I never played the full song with a band, but I nicked a lot of my own drum solo patterns from Butterfly’s Ron Bushy and Orange’s drummer (whose name I never did learn).  Bushy had a set with more toms than the Orange drummer’s kit (like mine, his was a standard four piece set) but he showed me it was possible to play Bushy’s inventive solo on a much smaller kit.  Even with the personnel changes E of O had over the years I saw them, they never did a bad version of Vida. 

      The Excels were riding their ‘we have a record out’ fame at that time and were the headlining band.  They came out in fancy satin looking stage duds (think The Beatles Sgt. Pepper outfits) and sporting Beatles-like sideburns and mustaches.  They followed Orange’s twenty minute Vida by playing the 45 RPM version.  The Excels omitted the entire solo section.  The 45 RPM version used a four measure drum break to connect the two halves of the song.  Do not get me wrong.  The Excels were a great band, and they did a credible version of the 45 RPM single. I was disappointed they opened their set like that right after Orange did the full album version.  I told my buddies, “Let me on the stage, I will show the drummer how the solo goes.” It was a strange decision on their part (and no, I did not storm the stage).

     In the wake of the album’s release, IB was sent on tour in the summer of 1968 with Jefferson Airplane.  The end of that year found them back in the studio working on their third album.  Ball was released in January of 1969 and climbed to No.3 on the Billboard Chart.  I can still see the album cover in my brain because classmate Mylon Koski brought his copy to our Geometry class and kept raving about it.  More touring would follow and the band was set to join the now legendary lineup at Woodstock in August of 1969, but it never happened.

      Iron Butterfly found themselves stranded at NYC’s LaGuardia Airport waiting for a helicopter ride to the Woodstock venue.  Their manager sent a telegram to the festival organizers demanding the band be flown in to immediately take the stage, to immediately get paid after their set, and then to immediately be flown back to the airport.  Woodstock production coordinator John Morris claims he sent an acrostic telegram in reply that said, “For reasons I can’t go into / until you are here / clarifying your situation / knowing you are having problems / you will have to find / other transportation / unless you plan not to come.”  The meaning was clear that the band were not (immediately) welcome.  The propriety of this family friendly newspaper will not allow me to unravel the mystery of the hidden message – that you will have to do on your own.  Iron Butterfly was invited to Woodstock, but they got lost in the shuffle.

     After the band’s final tour date in San Diego on December 13, 1969, Braun left the band.  He had been unhappy for sometime.  He wanted the band to move toward a harder rock sound.  As his dissatisfaction grew (and in anticipation of Eric leaving), the band began secretly rehearsing with two new guitar players in September of 1969.  Larry Reinhardt (who had played guitar in a pre-Allman Brothers band called Second Coming) and Mike Pinera would join as soon as Braun exited the band.  Pinera’s band, Blues Image, had opened for Butterfly on their last tour and are known mostly for their one-hit, Ride, Captain Ride.  Ironically, the Pinera / ‘Rhino’ Reinhardt duo pushed the band in the harder rock direction Braun had wanted to see.  

     When my first band, The Twig, were gigging for money my senior year in high school, I talked to a guy at a frat party who had seen the Pinera/Rhino lineup in concert.  He mentioned Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes opened for Butterfly.  During the headliner’s set, Nuge and Pinera had a ‘guitar battle’.  I was not familiar with the term so he explained it:  “They would trade solos and try to outdo each other.  By the end, they were both blasting the auditorium with feedback that was just a little painful on the ear drums.”  

      The last time I heard anything about Mike Pinera, he was touring with the Classic Rock All-stars.  When they performed at the Calumet Theater, the line-up included Peter Rivera on drums and vocals (Rare Earth), Jerry Corbetta on keys and vocals (Sugarloaf), and Dennis Noda on bass and vocals (Cannibal and the Headhunters).  They were a formatable cover band, only in this case they ‘covered’ each other’s hits from their previous bands.  Pinera did Ride, Captain Ride (of course) and a shortened version of Vida.  

     The band’s fourth LP, Metamorphosis, was released in August of 1970.  The group was touring Europe with Yes in 1971 when Ingle announced he was leaving the band.  The endless touring had worn him out and the guitar based sound of the band wasn’t meeting his expectations.  When he left, they expanded their blues and soul direction even further adding horns that made them sound more like Blood, Sweat and Tears than the original Iron Butterfly.  Ingle stuck it out for one more tour with Black Oak Arkansas.  When the final date wrapped in Bend, Oregon on May 23, 1971, Iron Butterfly disbanded.  A secondary reason for the breakup was made later by Pinera – the U.S. Internal Revenue Service was dogging the group for unpaid taxes.  Dorman and Reinhardt would then go on to found Captain Beyond.

     The first inevitable reunion came about when a promoter contacted Braun who, with Bushy on board, signed a contract with MCA records.  The rest of the band was populated with their friends and they released their first new music since 1970.  Scorching Beauty was released in January of 1975 followed by Sun and Steel in October of the same year.  The membership merry-go-round began to spin in earnest and if one includes the four musicians still performing under the name Iron Butterfly, some 65 musicians have been in the band.  Up until 1999 when Ingle officially retired, there were many iterations of the band including more than a few reunions of the classic lineups from the Heavy to Metamorphosis days.  Each of the Vida album members cycled through the band at least four or five times right up until they began to leave this mortal coil.

     Guitarist Braun was the first, passing away in Los Angeles on  July 25, 2003 at the age of 52.  Lee Dorman had a history of heart trouble and looked pretty rough in the videos captured just prior to his death on December 21, 2012 at the age of 70.  Dorman was preceded in death by one of Braun’s replacements, ‘Rhino’ Reinhardt in January of 2012 – he was 63 years old.  Ron Bushy had a string of his own health problems and in later years, his participation in the band became sporadic.  Their website announced he passed away at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica on August 21, 2021.  He was 79 when he succumbed to esophageal cancer.

Perhaps it is only fitting that the original founder of the band, Ingle, would be the last one standing even though he was no longer active in the band’s affairs when he died.

     What does a famous rock musician do after his successful band goes away?  Ingle managed a recreational vehicle park in the Los Angeles National Forest between 1974 and 1978.  He later spent time painting houses in Washington, Oregon, and California.  No doubt these pursuits left him available for the cycle of band reunions he took part in up to his retirement in 1999.  Having an album like Vida still selling on the classic rock charts over the years certainly would have  helped his revenue stream.

      Mike Pinera joined Butterfly after the Vida album, but the musical road he traveled after the band broke up was interesting.  Besides his involvement in several IB reunions, he didn’t let any grass grow under his feet.  In 1972, he and Jimi Hendrix’s drummer Mitch Mitchell formed a band called Ramatam.  Next up was The New Cactus Band in 1973 and 1975’s Thee Image.  Pinera joined Alice Cooper’s band and toured with him from the late 1970s into the early 1980s.  This would explain his inclusion of School’s Out in the Classic Rock All-Star shows.  He also put out two solo albums, Isla (1977) and Forever (1979), both on Capricorn Records.

     As a founding member of the CRA, Pinera has found himself touring with the four previously mentioned members as well as Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), Goldy McJohn (Steppenwolf), Prescott Niles (The Knack) and Albert Bouchard (Blue Oyster Cult).  Besides Bouchard on drums, the 2019 edition of the band featured former members of War, Oingo Boingo, and The Moody Blues.

     RIP to the original Vida members of Iron Butterfly.  During my sophomore year of high school, I was the drummer in the pit orchestra for our high school musical, Bye Bye Birdie.  A girl in the cast asked me if I knew the drum solo from Vida so I played a bit of it for her.  At a later rehearsal, I was warming up by playing a bit of Ron Bushy’s solo when the bass player came in with the guitar / organ rift.  Maybe it was because the director became annoyed with us, so we made it our ritual to preface each rehearsal with this snippet of the song.  This eventually attracted the attention of Gene Betts and Mike Kesti who started joining in even though they were not in the pit orchestra.  When all of us conspirators got to jam at the cast party at the end of the play’s run, I just had to drop in my bit of the Vida drum solo even though we didn’t actually play the song.  In a matter of weeks, Gene, Mike, and I were learning songs in my  basement that we would be playing for the next two years as The Twig.  And yes, I continued to slip a little In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida into every drum solo.

Top Piece Video:  Exactly which I. Ron Butterfly clip were you expecting?