"We'll get back to school after Goldwater gets in the White House. But for the next few months we're looking for voters... Republicans, Democrats, independents—even beatles."
In the pantheon of strange political gimmicks, The Goldwaters would have to rank fairly high on the list. Right up there with Michael Dukakis "boxer" action figures. The idea to assemble a conservative folk combo, have them record a bizarre, nearly unlistenable album and then put the group on the road with the 1964 Republican nominee for President was the warped brainchild of the Nashville-based Bates Brothers, Buford and Mark Clark. To fulfill their unique vision, the brothers recruited four kids with moderate musical skills from nearby colleges. The result was the Republican answer to the Chad Mitchell Trio. And in an odd example of conservative folk music convergence, The Goldwaters once shared the stage with another CONELRAD favorite, Janet Greene.
While Barry Goldwater carried on a long and distinguished senate career after his disastrous presidential bid, The Goldwaters, as a group anyway, were never heard from again (they apparently decided to pass on an ideal comeback opportunity to re-form in '96 as The Doles).
THE GOLDWATER WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD: EXCLUSIVE CONELRAD INTERVIEW
The first e-mail arrived following some back-channel negotiations with an associate of the ex-Goldwater. We weren’t sure which ex-Goldwater. The associate had only recently learned the true identity of his friend and had dutifully dropped a dime to CONELRAD. CONELRAD immediately begged for an interview—recognizing that opportunities like this one do not come along very often. Then the aforementioned e-mail appeared. In it, Ken Crook, the lead singer for The Goldwaters, took exception to CONELRAD's posted assessment of his former combo. "Our album wasn't 'nearly' unlistenable, Crook wrote, "it was completely unlistenable." Crook, who is now a broadcast news personality in the Southwest, reacted to CONELRAD's obsessive interest in The Goldwaters with good humor, "You do realize you need to get a life," he remarked over the phone at one point. Yes, we know.
So without further delay, a former Goldwater breaks his nearly 40 year silence on groupies (really), what happened to the fourth Goldwater, how Lee Harvey Oswald almost ruined the band and much, much more.
CONELRAD: Could you detail the origins of The Goldwaters?
The Goldwaters were conceived by a couple of brothers who lived in Nashville, Mark Clark Bates (named after the WWII commander) and his brother Buford.
I first met Mark when I worked during high school at the local radio station in my hometown. Mark was the editor of the weekly newspaper that also owned the radio station and he knew that I was interested in music and somewhat in politics. I lost track of him after leaving for college but he tracked me down in 1963 and told me about the idea for the "Goldwaters" and that he and Buford had written new lyrics to a number of old folk songs. Folk music, of course, was co-existing with Rock and R&B as the popular music of the day, popularized by such acts as The Chad Mitchell Trio, The Limelighters, The Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and others. I was somewhat astounded by the whole proposition of putting together an album and I remember asking him how he knew Barry Goldwater would be the Republican nominee since it was well over a year prior to the election. He was unshakeable in his belief that he would, and that proved to be correct. Mark was, at the time, head of the Nashville office of Billboard Magazine.
CONELRAD: How was the group assembled and the album put together?
KEN: Bob (Green) (guitarist and tenor) was recruited by Mark. Bob recommended Fred (Quan) (banjoist). I knew Jim (Vantrease) (bassist) since we were both in the music program at Peabody College. All of us had performed at campus shows. The four of us would meet at Mark and Buford's apartment building, go into the rec room and rehearse. This we did for a few weeks. Obviously, not enough. Mark then told us that he had lined up Nashville songwriter John D. Loudermilk to produce the album. Loudermilk had written several hit songs, including "A Rose and a Baby Ruth," made popular by country singer George Hamilton IV and he also wrote hits for Sue Thompson and he also did "Tobacco Road," made popular by the Nashville Teens. When we felt we were ready we trekked to the famous Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama and put together the album in one omnibus session. Then there was photography and artwork for the cover and then the pressing. I still remember how much I disliked the studio sweetening by adding a fake laugh track and applause. I actually think it's an insult to the listener, especially since the mixing of the audience sounds is so unnatural and the fact that people are laughing hysterically at things that aren't funny without the benefit of nitrous oxide. The original title of the album was "Folk Songs to Bug the New Frontier" and it contained several direct references to President Kennedy. Following the assassination, Mark decided to re-do the album and rewrite some of the songs. It was at this point that Loudermilk bailed, so Mark produced the new session himself. As for the four guys, we were strictly performers and had almost no creative input to the overall concept.
CONELRAD: The cover of The Goldwaters LP is unforgettable. Where did the photo session take place?
KEN: The album cover was shot at somebody's home in Nashville. I can not remember who lived there but we just borrowed the home for the shoot. We did a whole group of indoor and outdoor shots and I suppose the fireplace shot looked cozy and friendly.
CONELRAD: How was the record promoted? And describe the tour.
The album was promoted to Republican organizations, Goldwater clubs and other groups such as "The Young Americans for Freedom." Soon afterward in early 1964, many of these groups started to request live performances and we hit the road. Throughout the campaign we toured the country, performing in large, medium and small venues. One of the largest was in Charlotte, North Carolina in front of thousands of the faithful. We once did a show in Lompoc, California where Ronald Reagan was the keynote speaker and I still remember meeting him backstage before the show and thinking what a gracious man and excellent speaker he was. Many of our performances were in direct support of Senator Goldwater and he was there. At other times we performed with members of his family, especially Barry Goldwater Jr., who later served in Congress representing California. Some of our shows were in support of candidates for U.S. Congress who had aligned themselves with Goldwater. Although I would never rate us as one of the premier musical groups of the era, we actually did improve and honed our act as we continued to tour. The album is really the result of very little rehearsal. During live shows I would generally provide patter between songs with politically-inspired humor. Some of it was actually funny. I think we were just trying to emulate the popular folk groups of the time and during some of our personal appearances, to lighten things up we would do pop songs, especially by The Beatles, mixed in with the political material. One of Goldwater's biggest supporters was Walter Knott, who turned his small berry farm into a major amusement park in Buena Vista, California, and we appeared in the park several times
CONELRAD: America needs to know...Did The Goldwaters have groupies?
Groupies? You bet, as hard as it may be to believe. One young lady latched onto Bob in Oklahoma and even went to the national convention in San Francisco that year to hook up with him. There were also "The Goldwater Girls" who would dress in cowgirl outfits. Many of them would treat us like rock stars.
CONELRAD: The other inevitable question. Money. Did you profit financially from your tenure as a Goldwater?
KEN: It is my understanding that we sold a total of more than 200,000 copies of the album. Even though we did get paid a portion of the fees for live performances, it was not a way for us to get rich. My thinking was that if Goldwater did get elected, then we might start to cash in, but I think you know what happened there...
CONELRAD: Were the members of the band of the same political ideology as Goldwater?
KEN: I think we were all pretty much in agreement with Goldwater's philosophy except for Fred who often privately complained that he disagreed with something Goldwater had said or believed in. I always admired Goldwater because he was in many ways a horrible politician. That is to say he actually said what he believed and damn the consequences. He was also not afraid to change his mind or admit he was wrong. Over the years, I have admittedly become more cynical toward major party politics and would describe myself as a Libertarian today.
CONELRAD: Did the group spend much time with the candidate?
KEN: As in any presidential campaign, the candidate's every move is accounted for, so we never spent a great deal of time jawing with Barry Goldwater, but as I had mentioned before we did spend a good amount of time with Barry Jr. and it was certainly our feeling that Barry Goldwater appreciated what we were doing. Our direct contacts with the candidate were brief.
CONELRAD: Did you ever hear from other folk groups about how they regarded The Goldwaters?
KEN: We never heard from any other folk artists and that's probably a good thing. It's certainly possible they could have commented but not directly to us.
CONELRAD: Did you get much airplay?
KEN: I only heard us briefly in radio spots for appearances and we were told by those who saw it that a brief excerpt of a song was played on the "Huntley-Brinkley Report" on an NBC Nightly News report. We didn't expect much airplay because of the fairness doctrine that would have required stations to air opposing views. There could have been some airplay of the single, since it was generic in nature and not tied to any political campaign.
CONELRAD: It would appear from the pictures you kindly provided that somewhere along the line you lost a Goldwater. What happened?
KEN: The fourth Goldwater, Jim, only participated on the recording and decided not to tour with us. We decided we could live without a bass player, and so we did. Besides, carrying a huge string bass is a definite inconvenience.
CONELRAD: What happed to the group after the landslide defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964?
KEN: Since the group was formed for the sole purpose of promoting the candidacy of Goldwater there was no reason to continue and no talk of future plans. I almost immediately lost touch with Bob and Fred and the last time I talked to Mark was in about 1970 when I tried to convince him to buy the company I was working for. At the time, however, he had just invested in a chain of roast beef restaurants. I do know that a Mark Clark Bates ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate as an independent from Tennessee in the mid-70's and I'm assuming it was he.
CONELRAD: We gather that you keep your previous life as a Goldwater a closely guarded secret?
KEN: I have played the album for very few people. I have had entire relationships, including marriage, where the other person has no idea of this part of my life. If the quality of the album was better I'm sure this would be different. Since your website deals with Cold War issues, it almost seems surreal when thinking about that period, mainly because Goldwater was painted by the opposition as a mad man who take us down the path to sure atomic destruction. Instead, we got a president who mired us hopelessly in a non-winnable conflict in Southeast Asia. Uh-oh, I'm beginning to sound political. I'll slap myself and stop.
CONELRAD: Are you surprised that there is still some curiosity about The Goldwaters?
Yes, I'm surprised there is still any interest in The Goldwaters.
In some ways, I'm surprised there was ever any interest in The Goldwaters, but I do remember meeting many people who thought what we were doing was important and there were those who knew the lyrics to every song. Oh, there was another Goldwater release, a single 45 rpm called "I'm No Communist" (a real toe-tapper) b/w "The Ballad of Bobby Baker." I don't know how many copies of that we sold.
CONELRAD: What did you do after The Goldwaters disbanded?
KEN: I have been pursuing my career in radio for most of my life, moving about the country as many of us in the business have. I have worked in places from Chattanooga to Charleston, South Carolina. I programmed a contemporary hits station in the Saginaw-Flint, Michigan market and a country station in Detroit. Then I spent 17 years in Cleveland doing the so-called "morning drive" shift. I now live in the Southwest. Just recently on our morning show, the regular guest in the Tuesday morning slot could not make it, so he sent a substitute, Barry Goldwater, Jr. He was shocked when I told him I was in The Goldwaters and he remembered several appearances we made together.
CONELRAD wishes to thank Ken Crook for being kind enough to indulge CONELRAD's Goldwaters-mania. We also wish to thank the kindred spirit who dropped the dime on him.
CONELRAD invites the Goldwater Girls to come forward and share their fond memories of the band.