Peter Sando from Gandalf Interview

Recently at Neotomic Aliviac we got an interview with Peter Sando of now legendary band Gandalf. Gandalf was a band in the 60s in the New Jersey area. With little attention to them at the time, the band’s album has now been called one of the finest pieces of Psychedelic music. Here is the interview with Peter Sando, the guitarist and singer of the group:

Neotomic Aliviac: Gandalf was originally called the Rahgoos. Were there any singles released as the Rahgoos, and if there so, are they available to the public?

Peter Sando: We did cut 4 songs at Sanders Recording Studios, basically a walk-in demo business on 48th street in NYC. For fifty bucks you could cut an acetate and get copies on the spot. We did a Buddy Holly song, “What To Do,” and three of my early originals. Sundazed restored and released one of them, “Do The Rahgoo” on the Garage Beat ’66 Vol. 4 compilation. It has been described as “an exhilarating manic two-minute blast of chaos.”

N.A. Your record company had you change your name from the Rahgoos to Gandalf. Did you choose that name or was it the company, and why that name?

P.S. They didn’t like Rahgoos, no sense of humor! They suggested The Knockrockers which was totally unacceptable to us. We were on break in the dressing room at Scott Muni’s “Rolling Stone,” going through the ritual of re-naming our band when our drummer, Dave Bauer, who was reading The Hobbit at the time chimed in, “How about Gandalf and the Wizards?” When the artwork came back from Capitol it was shortened to Gandalf.

N.A. On the Gandalf record you covered the song Golden Earrings which was originally sung by Peggy Lee in 1947. To me I think it’s genius to make a song that’s not even from the psychedelic era and turn it into something completely different. How did the band think to do this song, and why?

P.S. My older sister Toni and I were thumbing through a fake book (an illegally published book of 1,000 songs used by wedding bands with only the lyric, lead line, and chord symbols), looking for old songs in a minor key. She suggested Golden Earrings. I loved the lyric and when I picked out the melody I immediately had a feel for it. My arrangement was pure in that I had never heard anyone else sing the song until many years after Gandalf when I rented the 1947 movie.

N.A. How would you describe your experience with Gandalf, and would you ever do it again?

P.S. We were lucky to get into Century Sound with Brooks Arthur and Don Rubin, two pros who were very patient in capturing our unorthodox sound. I have many fond memories and also, many regrets. That being said, I would definitely do it again, only better!

N.A. At the time Gandalf was released it was almost unknown, but today it seems like the band has a huge cult following. What do you feel about people discovering Gandalf today, and if you could say something to all of them what would you say?

P.S. I thought that the LP was forgotten until 1997 when a friend tipped me off that it had been re-issued in England. I am always honored and amazed at the many kind words I receive from people of all ages from countries all over the world who express their enthusiasm for our work of 40 years ago. To all those explorers who have discovered our lost treasure, I say that I am truly honored. Gandalf lives!

N.A. The last song on the album “I Watch the Moon” seems mysterious, and haunting. What does that song mean to you?

P.S. “Teenage angst” is nothing new.

N.A. In 1968 Gandalf broke up, before the record was released. When did you notice that the band was falling apart, and what was the last show you did together?

P.S. 1968 was a strange year, everything good, and everything bad happened. The war- the assassinations- the music, the love. I wanted to write songs and record. At the same time, the band was dependent upon playing clubs and doing covers. Our producers, K&R, had a deal with Capitol that fell apart. We gave up on the record ever being released and went our separate ways. I believe our last gig was at the Yellow Front Saloon in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

N.A. After Gandalf broke up, you teamed up with Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon to form a band called Barracuda. What would you say was different about Barracuda, and how long did the band last?

P.S. Garry and Alan had a string of monster hits recorded by The Turtles, Three Dog Night, etc. The Barracuda was formed as a more direct outlet for their material. They asked me to be the lead singer and I jumped at it. We cut two singles in 1969. “The Dance At St. Francis” got some airplay and “bubbled under” but never broke into the top 40. It was a good record, but In hindsight, I think that breaking the rhythm in the bridge may have prevented a hit. It was re-issued last year on Gandalf 2, also on Sundazed.

N.A. You released a solo album in 1998 of all original material called Creatures of Habit. Is there anything you are working on now, or planned for the future?

P.S. Yes, that was a culmination of years in developing my songwriting chops. I am especially proud of “John Brown,” about the militant abolitionist, and “Desert Flower,” a Native American lullaby. I have the songs written for a new solo CD with a working title Afraid Of The Dark. It will be all new original songs- one is about Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s slave mistress. That one fell together quite naturally. I’ll probably include “Soul Deep,” from the film Time Served, written with my friend Joe Delia. I hope to release it in 2009.

N.A. Do you remember as a child the first song or recording that made an impression on you, and what was your motivation for picking up the guitar?

P.S. I’ve been a record collector since I was 8 years old. My older sisters brought home the 45’s of the day- “P.S. I Love You” by the Hilltoppers, “Chewin’ Gum” by Teresa Brewer, “3 Coins In The Fountain” by the Four Aces. And we had a stack of 78’s that My Aunt (Dolly Dawn, “The Champaign of Big Band Singers”) had recorded in the 30’s. Soon we explored the far end of the AM dial and found the New York R&B stations. A whole new world was opening. “Night Owl” by Tony Allen and the Champs, “The Wind” by the Diablos, “It’s Too Late” by Tar Heel Slim and Little Ann, “Valerie” Jackie and the Starlights, “Try Me” by James Brown. Alan Freed came to WINS and brought us an R&B / Rockabilly mix that he called Rock and Roll. Little Richard, Shirley and Lee, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, The Moonglows, Jo Ann Campbell, Ritchie Valens, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Jackie Wilson. At 13, a friend showed me his new electric guitar. I was intrigued and asked to borrow it overnight. I picked on the first string three times, it was the first three notes of “I’ve Had It” by the Bell Notes. Soon I had the whole guitar solo down. I was hooked.

N.A. Is there any possibility of a Gandalf Reunion?

P.S. Last year, Frank Hubach visited from California and we did a live set together, just guitar and piano. It was so cool, a real happening! Hey, you never know.

Quick 1 word answers:
1. CDs or MP3s? – CDs
2. Coffee or tea? – Coffee
3. Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton? – Barack!!
4. Acoustic Neil Young or electric Neil Young? – Acoustic
5. Favorite curse word? – Dammit!


~ by neotomicaliviac on March 13, 2008.

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