Interview: Sue Randall (Sue Eakins/Akins) (Hendrickson Road House)
*Note* – This interview was conducted before Sue was able to contact the person who sold Hendrickson Road House acetates on eBay. The acetates have since been verified as original HRH recordings. They are not phonies. They are not counterfeits. The acetates contain music penned by Sue. For further clarification, read Sue’s remark in the comments section.
Almost 18 months ago I shared with you a rare private-press album by a group called Hendrickson Road House. A customer at the store turned me onto it a few years ago, and I had a difficult time finding a digitized version of the album until an anonymous Swan Fungus reader stepped up and donated his copy. With that donor’s permission, I posted the album for download. It’s one of those California psych-folk “holy grails” that generally fetches close to $1,000 on the open market. To my knowledge, it has never been reissued on CD.
Four months after my initial post, the drummer and piano player on the album, Don Mendro, commented regarding interest in a reissue of the eponymous record, and sought contact information for either Sue Akins or Phil Wilson. Six months later, Sue Randall (nÃ©e Akins) announced that she was indeed alive and “flying under the radar.” Using the information she provided to publish her comment, I decided to make contact.
Since then, Sue and I have communicated on a regular basis. We have discussed her plans to reissue Hendrickson Road House, the unfortunate attempt to counterfeit the record by an overseas label, her life and the album. What follows is a rather lengthy interview that has been ongoing for a few months. As far as I know, it is Sue’s first interview regarding Hendrickson Road House. For those of you who are familiar with the album, hopefully this will answer some questions about the people behind the record, Ojai California’s infamous Two:Dot label, and the potential reissue that is currently in the works.
I’d just like to say that I am incredible grateful to Sue for allowing me the opportunity to share her story, for having the patience and desire to keep up our correspondence, for providing the amazing photographs that are included with this interview, and for — every once in a while — reminding me not to be so lazy and finish editing and formatting the damned thing already. Thank you Sue, you are a wonderful, amazing woman.
SR: Sue Randall
EL: Hi Sue. Why don’t you tell me a bit about yourself? Were you born here on the West Coast? Have you lived here your whole life? What about your school, run-ins with the law, parents, and early musical interests?
SR: First, I’d like to thank you for inviting me to participate on your blog. You gave me some free publicity and promoted my music. I support Fair Use. You are a “good guy”.
In answer to you first question: I was born in Ventura, California.Â I lived on Vista Del Mar Rd., overlooking Pierpont Beach. My grandmother lived five houses away. I loved my “Nana”, and lived only for her praise. She wasÂ aÂ prolific artist and had art shows around California. I was artistic as well, but music turned out to be my thing. I did spend all of my youth there. But most Venturans will admit they wander off, only to return later for good. I didn’t. I moved around a lot.
I was a good student. I loved learning. I got very good grades but was often sited for talking too much. I was very tall for my age (5’7″ in 5th grade). I soon learned that I had better act like I was a lot older or people would think I was aÂ moron! I became very poised and calm. In fact, I became a very poised and calm rebel! I was the one who talked to the police if they showed up for some reason. I once playedÂ Bob Dylan’s “Lay lady, Lay” for about thirty minutes while police surveyed aÂ huge party in Ojai. The bad boys were quiet. I don’t have a [criminal] record. I did once spend about 12 hours in juvenile Hall for — get this — leading an idle, immoral and dissolute life. I left home a few too many times and was granted emancipation. I moved to Ojai. My parents then happily went on to complete their divorce (no judgement, parents do their best, as did I).
When I was five or six, my Dad brought home an old beat-up upright piano from aÂ church. I couldn’t believe it. I was all over it. One finger, sometimes twoâ€¦I was playing “Gravy Waltz”, “Exodus”, “Midnight in Moscow”. One -fingered, but with soul! I blew off recess to play the piano in the auditorium at school. I loved jazz…but the piano went away some time later. Very sad.Â When I was twelve my Dad gave me the gut string guitar I had been pining over for several months. He and my Mom pulled it off like a joke: she implied I was in trouble and he was in the garage, holding the beloved guitar. That wasâ€¦1963? It was summer. I played day-in and day-out until one day, my Mom popped in to say , “Turn the damnÂ radio down!” I said it’s not the radio, it’s Me! And she said, “You sound as good as the radio!” Wow.Â What can be better than that!
Like all “Pretend Happy Families”, it didn’t last. I bought a piano about three weeks ago and have been playing for fun.
EL: How would you describe your earliest musical influences?
SR: Whe I was growing up my parents had a big ‘ole RCA Hi-Fi turntable and AM/FM radio. It was awesome. They had music to die for. Tchaikovsky’s 5th in D-minor, the 1812 Overture, the Nutcracker Suite, Carousel, Paint Your Wagonâ€¦before I started kindergarten, I was listening to all this stuff. I was banging away on the coffee table like I was playing a piano! Very dramatic. My mother rolled her eyes.
As a pre-teen and teenager, I listened to Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, and Judy Collins. Joni Mitchell burst onto the scene and blew everyone away. The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Cream, CSN&Yâ€¦I was listening to Steeley Dan, every album, the Stones, of course — but one artist you may not be familiar with is Laura Nyro. Piano and voice. This woman could sing. And she could write like no one else. I guess she was classified as R&B but she was way more than that. Pretty much, though, she was underground. My favorite song of hers is “Buy and Sell”: “Cocaine and quiet beers, sweet candy and caramels, on a street that comes and goes, on a street called Buy and Sell.” It’s about how simple, every day people get addicted to cocaine and heroin. And how it all looks so normal on the street. She died an untimely death a few years ago. She has a website. I loved her music.
From there, I moved to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison — sounds like a “J” funeral — and now it’s Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, or Smashing Pumpkins. I love jazz, too: Wayne Shorter, Pet Metheny, Terence Blanchard, Eddie Harris, Gene Harris — it goes on and on.
I guess my message is this: When the goin’ gets tough, remember your beloved music. It’s where you came from.
EL: How long before Hendrickson Road House did you begin writing songs? Did you have a solo career at all before HRH?
SR: I think the first thing every young guitar player does after learning three chords is write a song. The first two that stuck were, “That’s All There Ever Was,” and the other was a song called “Pass The Hat”. Luckily, I have the reel-to-reel tape, which will never see the light of day. You have to remember that I was around 17 when Phil Wilson and I started playing together, and 19 when we recorded. I wasn’t exactly a woman of the world…
EL: Whoa. I had no idea you were so young at the time! As the principal songwriter of the group, did all ideas come from you or was there input from other members of the band?
SR: Dean Thompson wanted to produce a demo record of my material. The band was formed to make that happen. Phil Wilson was the core person — not to mention a good friend — he contributed heavily in arrangements and overall management. Norman and Don were guest performers. That is not meant to diminish their contributions, but rather to define what the overarching goal was. And it was not to promote a band. We were all told that no one would be paid for their efforts. I was always open to good suggestions. For instance, on “Tomorrow Your Sorrow,” Norman suggested the 3/4 time change, and he was right. It flowed flawlessly. It made the song more interesting.
You may be wondering about “Yessircantoo!” which Norman composed. Prior to working with us, he also played in another group, of which Don Mendro was the drummer. The two of them whined, whimpered and flat-out begged for a chance to do a debut song from their group. Towards the end of the sessions, I threw up my hands. We were all tired, and even Dean was worn down, so we said, “OK already!” It had nothing to do with HRH. It probably shouldn’t have been there. But it was an “Ojai kind of thing to do.” And I will tell you now, that it will not be on any reissue. Norman passed away tragically. His song was probably never copyrighted and he has surviving family. Out of respect for them, I will not profit from his music.
EL: Did everyone live in Ojai at he time or was that just where the label/studio was located?
SR: At the time we were all living in Ojai. Anyone who was doing anything musically was in Ojai. It was a haven for musicians and artists of all kinds. It still is, I hear. I lived in a little housing group called Cottages Among The Flowers, across from Phil WIlson, his wife, and their young son. They were very kind to me. I had bailed from home and Phil helped me get a job. We started playing music. I am forever grateful to them. Norman lived in an area called Meiners Oaks with his wife, Ramona. Don lived at Electric John’s house, out there somewhere. Dean’s studio was located at the east-end of Ojai, out in orange orchards. I house sat for him once and had to milk his goats.
This all took lace in a much simpler time. Things unfolded closer to real time. There was time to think about what we would say or do. There was a caring about the consequences of our decisions. There was no desire to shock or offend just for effect. People wanted to get their thoughts and beliefs out to effect possible change. That was 1970. It’s very different now.
EL: How did you wind up connecting with Two:Dot? I know shockingly little about the actual company, so you can be as thorough as you want with your answer.
SR: Phil Wilson and I are a little fuzzy on this. He played with a trio, which he called a “Proud Mary” band. They did a demo at Two:Dot and he talked to Dean about me and my music. Dean requested a meeting with Phil and me. I played for him and he recorded it. Later, he said he wanted to produce a record of my original songs. We couldn’t believe it! Of course, we said “Yes!” Then I said, “Oh my God, I have two songsâ€¦” and Phil said to me, “Write some more songs, Sue.”
Perhaps now is a good time to explain the Two:Dot mystery. Dean Oscar Thompson was the first DOT. Joanne, his wife, was number two, DOT. Thus, Two:Dot. Dean was a sound expert. he was affiliated with the Hear Foundation and possibly others who tested infants and children for hearing problems. He had many other gifts of which I had no knowledge. He was a very special person. His wife is 85 and vivaciously alive in a California town. I spoke to her a few months ago. She still plays the [Hendrickson Road House] record!
Dean produced the Arthur series. I have no idea what the music was about, I never heard itâ€¦
Dean was not a PR guy. I think he was dabbling in what he thought was the newest, happening music scene in his immediate experience. And he was right. To name a few of those “happening” people: Milton Kelly, Alan Thornhill, Rabbit McKay, Martin Young, Raj (Roger) Rathor, Dennis Shives, Luke Sullivan and many more I can’t remember.
But back to Two:Dot. So, Dean was a sound guy and not a PR guy. He had the album pressed in Los Angeles along with the 45rpm. We all got several copies. But no one knew what to do after that. There was no plan! Dean’s sons were going off to college, so they each took several copies and gave them away. Within a year, we were hearing of copies turning up all over the continental US. We played a few more events as a band and then the group disbanded. Phil and I continued to play local venues for a couple of years.
Then, slowly, the news leaked that somehow, the master tapes had been copied over. I know that took a little wind out of my sails. But I’ve always said that somethings are just not meant to be. I still believe that. But my alternate belief is that there is always a way. So, we’ll see about this venture.
EL: After that initial meeting with Dean, when did you finally go into the studio? How long did it take to cut the record? What was the recording experience like?
SR: You know something, Evan? I honestly don’t remember when we started recording. I know the album came out in December of 1970. Ojai can be extremely hot in the summer — bad fire seasons — and quite cold in the winters. It snows sometimes. I think it took about seven or eight months to get it done. Everyone worked a day job. I remember hanging around outside when we started and heading indoors towards the end.
Dean was a very tolerant man. And it’s a good thing, too. I was nineteen and the boys were all older than me. They were the yahoos, while I tried to be the respectable, mature person. I must admit that Phil Wilson was very restrained. I will answer your unasked question: Yes, people did get high. And drunk. I did not ask questions about states of mind. I personally did not partake in substances while actually recording. I had already done it while writing and composing. I felt obligated to be totally present for this wonderful man who was giving us this incredible opportunity. So, I was able to keep things under control. But there was no controlling Norman. It was no secret that the more Norman drank, the better he played. He would reach out and find what he was looking for. He would reach back and retrieve the perfect riff. I think he could have gone on to become a renowned guitar player in blues and jazz. It pisses me off that he is not here.
I had so much fun working with Dean and the group. But my absolute best time was when Dean and I worked on my solo songs together. Back then, my voice wasn’t as strong. He discovered that overdubbing and double-tracking were ways to enhance my voice. So songs like “Theater King,” “Helping Hand” and “I Wondered” were very fun to work on. He somehow knew what I wanted those songs to sound like. He would say, “Come on, just on more track and it will be perfect!” How lucky could I get? And when we listened back, full blast in the studio, it was awesome. Some of the harmonies were actually eerie!
EL: Now’s probably a good time to ask about some songs of yours I’ve been listening to a lot lately. What can you tell me about the first track on the album, “Forget About You”?
SR: The lyrics to “Forget About You” do seem straightforward, don’t they? And in a way, they are. I think most songs people write are like masks: they may explain, they do not always tell the whole truth, but maybe just enough. When we are young and go out on our own, we are free! Free to make mistakes and free to discover that we must live with those mistakes and deal with them. “Forget About You” and “Seed That Grows” are sister songs — miles apart but deeply connected. Non-local, as in physics. I think “Seedâ€¦” is fairly transparent. “Forgetâ€¦” is about loss on two levels: physical and emotional. I think you’ll have to use your imagination from here on!
EL: What about “Tomorrow Your Sorrow”? It seems simpleâ€¦
SR: This song is probably the most simplistic song I’ve ever written. It has basically two little verses! It felt like it was a “Moon in June” song. But for some reason everyone liked it. I think it had a lot of room for improvement — it was basically unfinished. Norman threw in his two cents and we added the three-four time change. I think Phil said to give Norman more lead guitar time, let him wail. I said okay, being the genius that I was. Here are the lyrics, for the most part:
You lie, you cry
You try to make me change my mind
You sigh, then you reply
That it’s only going to take more time
But I can see it
When I look into your eyes
That you’re never, no
You’re never going to change
Tomorrow your sorrow
Won’t take away the sadness
Today you’ll stay
Not try to hide your madness
’cause I can see it
When I look into your eyes
That you’re never, no
You’re never going to change
The guys rocked on this song, I think. I played rhythm and I just filled in the blank spaces with some silly words, but it all worked. Phil’s bass line was great, as usual. He also made “Forget About You” with his bass line.
EL: And, lastly, “Classical Misconceptions Part I & II”
SR: It makes me happy that you asked about this track. No one ever has and I’ve always loved it! When I was around twelve years old, my grandfather lived with us. He was a very colorful man — married four of five times — and one of his ex’s was very fond of my dad. She called one night to tell him several times that she was certain Jesus was going to call her home that very night. My dad looked out for her as best he could. He talked to her, thinking she thought she just might drop dead for no reason. In the morning, Dad was gone. After he’d called her back there was no answer. She did the deed with Aspirin. My parents were very direct. My dad said she was old and lonely. I wondered what it was like for her. I would go through four days of hell to have a barbecued hamburger on Saturday. I would suffer church for fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy. I truly suffered until I got my first guitarâ€¦but then, I wasn’t 75-years old and aloneâ€¦I tried to make all my lyrics audible on the album. Here are the ones for this song:
You’re listening to the sounds running all around your head
Watching memories dancing all around your bed
Dreams are your relief, my friend, but your dreams
Have been your true belief and on and on
Until the very end
Shake the morning from your eyes
You can’t ignore the day
Try to think of all the good things
That happened your way
Don’t be sad because you’re old,
Life is like a little star
That never grows up to grow coldâ€¦
I want to apologize for the big clunker in the middle. Dead said, “Do you want a retake?” I said “No, unless you want to cut off my left hand afterwards.” That was a finger-bleeder of a song. I never completely mastered it.
EL: Did you record any more material for Two:Dot that wasn’t included on the album? I ask because of those “unreleased acetates” that found their way onto eBay recently. Do you know anything about those?
SR: Everyone wants to know about auctions for unreleased material. I know that the record albums in good condition sell for way too much! I’ve seen acetates on eBay sell for $240. Auctions for “unreleased material.” One auction showed a record’s starting bid of $400, and it sold for $760 — about five years ago. Anyone could get a 15-year-old girl to bang on a guitar and label it “Sue Akins, unreleased songs,” and put it on an acetate. But I can tell you now, there is no unreleased material that came out of Two:Dot studios. I have the only unreleased material in my hands. I would be happy to verify for anyone whether an acetate of other recordings is actually mine. I think it’s fun that people can make money off this, but I don’t want people to get ripped off. I can tell you in five seconds if the material is mine. [Note: Sue has given me permission to share her e-mail address, so if this pertains to you, contact me and I can forward you her contact information]
To answer your question, I didn’t do any more recording at Two:Dot. Anyone could have recorded material at a live event and made an acetate. There’s just no way of knowing (it could have been an inside job!).
EL: How long did it take until you realized there was this underground interest in HRH? How long until people started contacting you asking if you had copies of the record? I imagine more people came to know about the band and music as the Internet made it easier to track down people as well as hard-to-find recordings.
SR: You know, a few years ago I had searched lightly under Sue Eakins/Sue Akins and never found anything. It never occurred to me to search under Hendrickson Road House. After the fateful call from Yoga Records on June 28th, 2010, I learned it all. It was quite the shock/surprise. But you know, it’s all okay. I got back in touch with Phil Wilson. It reawakened the musician in me. I’ve started playing guitar and piano again.
It wasn’t until I popped onto a few blogs (like yours) and said, “Hi I’m not dead!” Then I started hearing from people all over the planet. I just fulfilled a mailing to a gentleman in the UK who happens to be quite the music scholar. There hasn’t been a huge number of people but they are all from all over. It seems to come and go.
I got an interesting demographic from RYM, which said the people who listen to my music are generally males from 17-44 years old. It seems to be true. I can only guess that all males want to find out how women really think when it comes to the man/woman relationship. I think most of my songs address that subject on one level or another. Men are designed to “fix” things. They aren’t designed to listen to lamenting and venting. Females should do that with other females! Listening to a song must be so much easier for guys. It’s definitely more entertainingâ€¦and you can turn it off!
EL: Can you talk about the process of getting the album reissued?
SR: One thing I have to deal with is discovering the quality of the record I have in regards to a transfer. It shows no scratches or anything wrong physically. It was only played twice. Remember, the master was taped over. I don’t want to send it to some CD factory. I would have to hand-carry it myself or not sleep for weeks! Also, I have a bonus song (truly unreleased!), that Phil Wilson sent to me. He did manage to copy it to a CD but it’s pretty muddy, bassy. The original is on reel-to-reel tape. I need to have that evaluated as well. I had this fantasy of doing it myself. But frankly, just the e-mails and phone calls have made me want to seek mental health services!
I can’t tell you when you will be able to get copies of the reissue. I am still planning to try to fulfill some private, personal requests.
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