In 1965, you’d be hard-pressed to find a group more universally adored by legions of teenage girls than Herman’s Hermits. Their faces, especially the boyish grin of lead singer Peter Noone, were plastered on virtually every magazine cover, and their records sat stably on the charts for three years — 11 of their singles landing in the Top 10.
Along with Noone, Karl Green, the group’s bass player, was a founding member of the band. Over the years, Green’s music career has ebbed and flowed as the Hermits disintegrated, regenerated, fell apart again, and eventually split apart into different touring factions, seemingly for good. But now, after a decades-long break to raise a family, Green is dipping his toe back into music and planning to release his first solo album this summer. Recently, REBEAT caught up with Green on a visit to Chicago, where he’s hoping to relocate and start a new chapter in his musical life.
REBEAT: How are you, Karl?
KARL GREEN: I’m good, thanks. I was just scanning Facebook answering questions.
Do you enjoy Facebook? Are you pretty active on there?
I go on once a day usually and just sort of answer questions and message fans and stuff, you know. It’s a good way of keeping in touch with people [who] are always logging in and logging out and asking questions and messaging. I’ve got a lot of friends in the Chicago area, so it’s a good way of letting them know where I am and stuff.
Do you still live in the UK primarily?
Yeah, I’ve got a home over there, but I’m going to apply for a long-term visa, and eventually I want to try and get dual nationality. I wouldn’t mind a small home here; I’ll keep a small home in England as well, so I can sort of zip, because I’ve got three daughters over there, so I’ll go back there and see them quite often. But when I’m at home next, I’m going to try and apply for a decent work visa. I had one in the ’60s and ’70s, [but] I don’t know how hard it’s going to be these days to get one. I should have no problem, hopefully.
Hopefully with a track record like yours. I understand you’ve been playing around recently, which is very cool.
I’ve just been sort of guesting with people, because I’m only on what you call an ESTA visa, so I’ll just turn up, and if people want me to play, I’ll play with the band and stuff, but I can’t actually work over here properly yet. I just love playing; that’s why I’ve kept on. I want to get a visa so I can actually play a lot more over here. It’s the playing I love, but the paperwork I hate.
You really must love playing, because I read that you started performing professionally when you were only 11.
We had a cinema of matinee for children on Saturdays where they played The Three Stooges and Flash Gordon and all those sort of things, and I used to play on the intermission by myself to start with and then [with] a band called the Black Knights for a while. We played skiffle and early American rock. My main influences from America were Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Charlie Gracie. All the rockers, you know. Because I was born near the docks in Salford, Manchester, when I was a kid, we used to stand outside the pub and all the American sailors would come across the docks and give us chewing gum and 45 RPM records that we’d never heard before. I took these records home and listened to them and it just blew me away. That’s when I wanted to really start playing rock.
I joined a band called the Balmains, which I left when Al Chadwick joined, who was a member of the Heartbeats later. [The Heartbeats] needed another guitar player, and I joined the band. Lots of people were in different bands, and we all sort of fragmented and came back together in different groups. That’s what it was like in Manchester; everyone used to play with different bands all the time, you know.
And the famous story with the Heartbeats was, of course, Peter Noone gets up from the audience, sings a song, and, boom, joins the band. Then, you two became founding members of Herman’s Hermits.
We were playing out in North Wales somewhere, and I used to watch a lot of cartoons back in those days like Popeye and all those early early cartoon features, and I was a big fan of a thing called The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. And there was a character on there called Dr. Peabody who had a pet boy called Sherman. And Peter put a pair of glasses on belonging to one of the keyboard players we were working with, and he looked like Sherman, and I kept calling him “Sherman,” which morphed into Herman. We said, “What a great name for a band. We’ve got Herman… and the something.” I think the bass player at the time, Al Wrigley, said, “We’re Herman and the Hermits.” And that’s how it started. It was just a drunken night. We were all about 15 years old, I think.
Things happen when drunk 15-year-olds get together. So you were the one that came up with Herman, really?
Yeah. You’ll hear lots of different stories, because I think Barry [Whitwam] tells one story, Peter tells another, but that is the true story!
Was there a significance to the Hermits? Or was that just a drunken, alliterative thing?
It was just alliteration, really. When Mickie Most asked us to do a recording test, he said the bass player and the drummer weren’t up to scratch, and he said they had to go, so we had to sack them. I became the bass player, and we got a guitar player and drummer — Lek [Derek Leckenby] and Barry — and we thought we ought to change the name slightly in case we had success and the other two claimed that they should’ve been in the band, or whatever. So we changed Herman and the Hermits to Herman’s Hermits, because I knew a band in Liverpool called Faron’s Flamingos, and I thought that’d be great. It’s a good way of shortening rather than changing the name.
How did you hook up with Mickie Most?
Our manager, a guy called Harvey Lisberg, took us under his wing, and he phoned up Mickie, sent him an airplane ticket and a hotel reservation, and said, “Come up and see this band that I’m managing. Mickie came along and saw the band and said he liked the idea of the band, and invited us to come and do a recording test. We did the recording test, and Mickie said, “Change the bass player and the drummer,” which we did. He came back to see us again and said, “Yeah, that’s great. Learn this song.”
He gave us the record of “I’m Into Something Good” by a girl called Earl-Jean. She played it slightly more bluesy than we did. We changed it into a West Coast type of song; we called it a “British surfing” sound, I believe, because of the harmonies. We were big on harmonies. Keith [Hopwood] and I were big fans of the Everly Brothers and that sort of stuff. And the rest is history. We recorded “I’m Into Something Good” and it got to #1 in England, and I think it got to about #11 here on the chart [Editor’s note: the song peaked at #13 in the US on the Hot 100]. And the rest is history. We came over and toured and had about six years of really top-notch success.
Do you remember that first trip to America, what it was like coming over?
The very first trip was just television and radio shows and things like that. We did the Murray the K show, I think we did The Ed Sullivan Show. It was just a very flash sort of thing. We came over, did about five days in New York and went over to the West Coast and did something there, and then went back, because we had to fill the commitments in England that we’d booked before we’d actually gotten the record, so we were playing for peanuts with a #1 record in England and a [hit] record in the States.
And then eventually in ’65, we came over and did a Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tour, which we were booked on before “Something Good” did really well. During the tour, “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” was released, I think, and went manic. It sold millions of copies, and Bobby Vee was headlining the tour, as it goes, and it ended up with us going from opening the show to top of the bill. Bobby was very good about that; he didn’t cut up about it, he just said, “Fine, that’s the way it goes, this sort of thing happens.” And we went on and stole the show.
Bobby Vee was big in England. We were his fans. Before we made records, we used to cover his songs in England when we were doing working-man clubs and little youth clubs and things like that. So when we actually went on tour with him, we were in awe of all the people on tour because they were all big stars compared with us. We were starting from nowhere touring with all these idols of ours. It was weird, really strange, to be thrown in at the deep end with all these big mega-stars. Peter and myself were only 17, Karl and Barry were about 18, I think, and Lek was about 20, so we were all very young.
Was the hype overwhelming at all because you were so young?
Oh, yeah. When I first came to America, I expected to see hitching posts outside all the hotels, especially when we went to California, you know, Hollywood, I was expecting to see horses on the street! And cowboy hats and spurs and things. When we saw the Sunset Strip and all the buildings and everything, we were all expecting a completely different thing from Hollywood. Didn’t expect it to be so glamorous and high tech.
So, like many of your peers, your view of America was really shaped by Westerns?
Yeah, because we used to watch all those weekly shows, you know, Bonanza, and [the film] Riders of the Range, and The Lone Ranger — Saturday matinees. We were all brought up on that stuff from being really small boys.
That’s interesting. I read a story that when Herman’s Hermits played Ed Sullivan, you actually were late to the show, took a cab, and got totally mobbed. Is that true?
No, we were in a limo, but we did have trouble getting in and out. They had the police cordon [to] try to hold all the girls back. We got in all right, and then when we did the show, we caused a union strike. We weren’t allowed to touch the guitar cables. We plugged them into the amplifiers ourselves, and all the electricians said, “All right, all out, can’t do that.” And then on the way out, I got a pair of scissors in my left eye, and someone smashed me in my right eye, trying to get back into the car. Blood everywhere, and I got charged for cleaning the limo, but there you go, that’s life.
I’m glad that you recovered from that. It sounds like it could’ve been bad.
Oh yeah, it could’ve been very bad. Half an inch one way or the other, and I could’ve lost an eye. But this girl was just trying to get to my hair, you know, she was trying to cut it, and her arm got knocked, and it stuck in my left eyebrow. That’s how I remember The Ed Sullivan Show apart from the electricians going on strike. It was just manic, absolutely manic everywhere we went. We drove from the hotel and the streets were just full of girls running after the limo all the way down to the theater. And when we got there, the pavement was just crowded with people and a couple of lines of cops trying to hold these poor girls back. And the poor cops were getting beaten; all the girls were punching and trying to get at us. The cops managed to hold the line on the way in, but on the way out it broke and that’s why the car door hit me in the face, and then I got the scissors in me eye. But that’s showbiz!
Did a lot of those types of incidents happen along the way or was that the worst?
Lots of times, people got lost trying to get in and out of gigs. Barry got lost once in the street and had to jump into someone’s car and lie on the backseat underneath a car rug because hundreds of girls were chasing him down the road and had no idea where he was. So he just stopped a car and said, “Can I get in the back seat? Just drive, get me out of here.” Lots of that sort of thing happened. It’s a bit like, you’ve seen the film A Hard Day’s Night? Pretty much like that, running everywhere. Everywhere we went we had to run for our lives.