Interview page 1...
With the release of “Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers” on dvd in late 2002, fans of the cult comedy horror classic were treated to a rare Ravenstone song, “More Love,” which invoked the sound of the band from the early 70s.
What follows is an interview that Michael Simpson, lead vocalist for the group and the movie’s director, did with John Klyza, the Australian-based webmaster for the www.sleepawaycampfilms.com web site. It’s reprinted here with his kind permission.
The Ravenstone Interview
(Interviewer’s note: Due to the interest sparked by Ravenstone’s song “More Love,” which is a bonus on the Unhappy Campers dvd, the film’s director, Michael Simpson, agreed to an interview about the band, the early days of the internationally known Athens music scene and his own music background. Prior to the interview, I was given some press information and photos.)
JK – Most campers only know you through your movies. It’ll probably come as a surprise to them to learn you had a career in music before you became a movie director.
MS – I started out playing bass in a garage band when I was 14 Early on, we used to play at the Enlisted Men’s Club at Fort Gillem. That’s an Army Base on the outskirts of Forest Park where I grew up in Georgia. None of the guys in the band was old enough to drive so my dad drove us to the club and then picked us up when we finished playing.
JK – That’s too funny.
MS – Since we were minors working in a bar, the club manager wouldn’t let us off the stage without an escort. The waitress even had to walk you to the toilet. She’d wait at the door while you made your offering to the porcelain gods then she’d walk you back. You can imagine the kidding we took for that from the soldiers in the bar but they seemed to like our music.
JK – Let’s talk about Athens, Georgia, in the early 70s when Ravenstone was formed. Since the city later became an internationally recognized music scene, I think a lot of people are interested in how it all began.
MS – The Athens music scene was embryonic in the early 70s. It was nothing like it became after the B-52s, then R.E.M., put Athens on the map a few years later. And of course, after that, Widespread Panic also came out of Athens.
JK – That’s an incredible roster of bands to come out of such a small city.
MS – There are several other world-class bands that came out of that scene also over the years. Early on though, there were only a handful of bands from Athens and clubs to play in.
JK – Ravenstone was performing its own original music in Athens in ’71. The band predates the B-52’s by what, five years or so?
MS – Yeah, something like that.
JK – The band is really like one of the godfathers of Athens rock then.
MS – (laughs) Or maybe the bastard Uncle or something.
JK - How did Ravenstone start?
MS – I was attending the University of Georgia in Athens where I was studying film. Butch Blasingame, Bill Wilson and I were in a drama class. I’d met Bill a few months earlier and had jammed with him and really liked his drumming. He had a lot of jazz and big band influences, which was rare for a rock drummer. Butch was a lead guitarist and he recruited Dwight Brown, the bass player, and Ralph Towler, who played guitar and keyboards. The three of them had previously played together in a group from Monroe, Georgia, which is about 30 miles outside of Athens.
JK – You were the lead vocalist of Ravenstone. One press clipping described you as “nubile.”
MS – Yeah, I spent years living that one down. (laughs)
JK – Tell me about the band’s name. Charlie Burel’s article said Ravenstone was the name of a field in Germany where they executed witches during the 15th Century.
MS – It’s mentioned in the play “Faust” by Goethe. The scene is set at night in an open field. It begins -- "What weaving are they round the Ravenstone? Mephistopheles. I know not what they are...”
JK – That’s a pretty literate name for a rock band. Why’d you choose it?
MS – We were studying the play in class. It seemed like an apt metaphor.
JK – A metaphor? For what?
MS – Being young and full of ourselves, we had lots of passion and idealism. Basically, we wanted to slay the prejudices we saw around us or some such nonsense.
JK – Do you remember Ravenstone’s first performance?
MS – It was for a birthday party in this large, old southern gothic house on Milledge Ave. About fifty people were there. At one time
Pretty juvenile humor.
JK – From the very beginning, you guys were into politics in a big way.
MS – It was at the height of the Vietnam War. We opposed the war and did what we could to help stop it. As a band we were also involved in things like voter registration, freedom of expression and human rights issues, campus politics. And some basic hell raising. Lots of that, actually.
JK – The article written by Rex Granum in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution newspaper, “Five Set Politics to Music,” stated that Ravenstone was forming a student political party at the University of Georgia. This was November ’71.
MS – The band rented a large house on Prince Avenue where we lived and also rehearsed. Rex showed up there for an interview. I think he was intrigued by the idea that a bunch of longhaired musicians could actually make a complete sentence. Rex later served in the Carter White House.
JK – The article mentioned you guys flew an American flag in front of the band house. What was that about?
MS – At the time, there were people who thought you couldn’t have long hair or oppose the war and still be patriotic and love your country. Bill, our drummer, suggested we put the flag up to show you could. We considered ourselves patriotic. We just disagreed with the direction the country was heading. At that time, a lot of folks did. It’s ironic but you can see an echo of that today in America. There’s a radical right element in our country today that believes you can’t criticize your government, that doing so is unpatriotic. Of course, that’s bullshit.
JK – The AJ&C had the largest circulation of any newspaper in the southeastern U. S. and the Ravenstone article ran on Thanksgiving Day, their largest print day. Lots of people must have read that story.
MS – Yeah, someone once estimated that more than a million people read that article.
JK - Ravenstone had only been a band a few months. Yet, you already had enough notoriety to have a write up about the band in a major newspaper. That’s pretty amazing, really.
MS - There weren’t many bands playing their own music from Athens at the time, especially ones who had something more to say other than “let’s boogie,” so we quickly developed a following. Ravenstone was able to fill up some of the early Athens clubs like the Hedges, Fifth Quarter or Mother’s Moustache where they’d pretty much let us play anything we wanted as long as people showed up and drank beer. We also did some concerts early on, on campus at the student center and Legion Field, which got us exposure.
JK – Your first concert at Legion Field sounded wild.
MS – Legion Field is at the bottom of a long, slopping hill that has several large dorms stacked up the side of it. The students in the dorms spilled out to hear us play. We rented part of the P.A. system that was used at the first Atlanta International Pop Festival. It was huge. We were told that you could hear us all the way to Little Five Points several miles away.
JK – I read your music was responsible for some unintended pregnancies that night.
MS – (laughs) That’s an urban legend that seems to have taken on a life of its own. A couple got caught getting their freak on in some bushes or something during the concert. That’s how the story got started.
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