HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: March 2020. We had the honour to talk with a great guitarist: Joe Konas. He has been an original member of The Gods, one of the earliest progressive rock bands. They recorded two amazing albums and many members of the Gods later joined famous bands: Ken Hensley (keyboards/vocals) and Lee Kerslake (drums) joined Uriah Heep, Mick Taylor (guitar) joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the Rolling Stones, John Glascock (bass) joined Jethro Tull and Greg Lake (bass) formed King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Joe had also the opportunity to play with Jimi Hendrix and Wild Child Butler. He lives in Canada since 1970 and he still loves the blues. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
What are the projects you are currently involved with?
I teach. You know, I do it for 5 days a week and I play usually on the summertime or any other favoured time. But I write original songs with my students and friends and help them record. My daughter plays bass, so we do stuff like that. But that’s about it. I’m not running. I decided not to live out in suitcases at 73 and run around half the world, so I retired about 20 years ago when I was 50. I made that decision. I pat around the music, all the time. I’m not in urgency. Whenever the forces may be. I ‘m just writing original stuff and recording it. I play the guitar, of course.
The Gods had fantastic vocal harmonies in their songs. Did it take you a lot of time to achieve that result?
No, I think we ‘ve just got chemistry at that time and it just clicked between Ken Hensley, myself and Lee Kerslake, when we took turns singing lead and backing ourselves up. The bass player never sang, so we always had a three-part harmony: Ken on the keyboards, me on the guitar and Lee on the drums. It just happened that we all had a really good ear for harmonisation. It just happened. We’ve just got chemistry and if it works, great; if it doesn’t, it wasn’t meant to be. Harmony came easy to us. That was never a problem. We were doing different things than other people were doing in London at the time.
I love your guitar solo in “I Never Know” from “Genesis” (1968) album. Could you tell us a few words about this song?
It’s funny because I have never heard this song properly for many of the nearly 50 years now. I put it on this morning, because you were calling, I listened to it and I said: “Oh boy, I was probably 19 years old!”, ‘cause it was in 1966 or ‘67 and it sounded pretty cool. I was on the road when I was 16 playing in Switzerland, Sweden and all over England, in 17, 18, 19, when I played with The Gods and Ken Hensley. So, I had quite a knowledge behind my playing. It wasn’t bad for a 19-year old kid to go to Abbey Road and lay down the track. Do you know what I mean? I enjoyed that. I sounded like I was playing in a garage or something. Yeah, it was cool.
Was it an interesting experience to record both Gods albums at Abbey Road Studios?
It was fun. We auditioned at The Marquee Club and Roy Featherstone came out with his other businessmen from EMI and they loved the band and they gave us a 4-year contract. So, we went in there, we just walked in, and there were some security guards, up the steps, inside Studio One. It was wonderful. There were always so many people recording there. It was just a great experience. It was just heartwarming. Scary in one way, you’ve got The Beatles downstairs.
Ken Hensley has said that he got to see The Beatles a couple of times at Abbey Road. Did you have that opportunity too?
What happened was: If you walk into Abbey Road, into the recording house there, we were on the left, the offices were on the right and further down, the Studio Two and the washrooms were there and then there was a staircase going downstairs to Studio Three. Also, they had a restaurant that was downstairs. That was where The Beatles always hung around. But if you want to look around the corridor, the recording room was upstairs and if you looked through the plexiglass -which you weren’t suppose to do it – which I did, probably about three times. I ‘d see The Beatles there, John Lennon. He was always playing on his blonde Epiphone guitar and most of the time laying down on the floor playing 12-bar stuff like Chuck Berry. I looked for maybe 5 seconds or so and that kind of stuff. You weren’t suppose to do that, you could lose your contract.
But the other time was: John Glascock (bass) and I finished up a session there in Studio One and I said: “I want to take a whiz now. So, I ‘ll be back in a few minutes” and John said: “Oh I want, as well! I ‘ve got to go”. I walked in, I did what I had to do, John was behind me, and as I opened the door to leave the bathroom, there was Paul McCartney! I said: “Paul! Paul!” or something like that and he said: “Hey mate, how are you?” I said: “Great. Things are going good. Yeah, really good!” and he went in to take a whiz and I went back into the Studio One and I thought: “I wonder if I should go back, that way take another whiz and say ‘I took a whiz with Paul McCartney’. That would be tremendous”. I never did that because I thought I would see them again, but you would never see them. Very rarely. Very rarely.
Why did you decide to cover “Hey Bulldog” (The Beatles – 1969)? It had just been released!
It was released because our producer was David Paramor and I think he was a nephew or a son -I’m not sure, I think he was a nephew- of Norrie Paramor. Norrie Paramor was a big producer in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s. He had Cliff Richard, The Shadows and all those guys. We had David and we weren’t allowed to choose really what we wanted to do. That was the problem. They wanted us to be a pop band like Herman’s Hermits and wear black suits, white shirts and black ties and I wasn’t into that and Ken Hensley wasn’t. We weren’t. We were loud, rude and obnoxious on stage. We did everything the opposite. We couldn’t do. We played loud and we had harmonies, but they did want on the recordings to do poppy stuff, so they suggested to do “Hey Bulldog”, but we did it a little bit heavier. That’s all I know. I mean, I love The Beatles. The Stones are going to play here in a couple of months, in Detroit. I like “Hey Bulldog”. I like that one and I like the song I wrote and Ken helped out a little bit that is called “Baby’s Rich”. “Baby’s Rich” nearly got it into the charts and it’s on Youtube . They filmed us doing that song in black-and-white and colour, downstairs in Studio Three, where The Beatles used to record. We were about to make it and get into the charts, but we never got in there, because maybe it wasn’t poppy enough, who knows…
My favourite song from “To Samuel a Son” (1969) is “Long Time, Sad Time, Bad Time” where John Glascock plays amazing bass. Is there any story about this song that you would like to share with us?
I don’t know much about that song. It’s a good song. I love that. Ken always wrote really wonderful stuff. Yeah, John Glascock was a wonderful bass player. He would do all Paul McCartney did. He loved the way Paul played. So, he reminded me a little bit of Paul when he played and the way he acted. But I don’t know too much about “Long Time, Sad Time, Bad Time”.
Do you miss John Glascock (died in 1979)?
Yeah, he was such a wonderful guy. He was with us for a couple of years, at the very end, before we broke up and everyone went their own ways, etc. Yeah, he was such a great guy! His brother, Brian, was actually the drummer when we started The Gods around 1965. The last I heard, he was in San Francisco. John, was a great guy. A wonderful-wonderful person.
The Gods played many concerts at The Marquee Club. How important were these shows to the career of The Gods?
I played probably in 1966 already for John Gee, who was the manager of The Marquee Club. I played quite a few gigs there with one of my bands who were The Mark Barry Band. When I joined The Gods we ended up of course playing there as an opening act for Peter Frampton, The Herd, and all these other bands. Then, we got a house gig on Wednesdays, you know, Wednesday nights. We were very popular in the clubs in London and all those areas: Manchester, Birmingham. In London itself, we did a lot of gigs. They loved us a lot because we were different. Like I said, we didn’t want to wear black suits, shirts and ties. Some people did. We were -like I said- loud, rude and obnoxious. We were different. So, maybe we were more like an underground kind of band. For The Marquee Club, John Gee liked us and suited us when we played there and we played there quite a bit. It was good. It was important to play there.
Do you think The Gods should have been more popular?
If we got into the charts, it would have, yeah. Because we played Belgium on and off, with other bands. We played in Paris a million times, in Switzerland. I was around half the world many times in my younger days, when I was 16, 17, 18, 19, maybe around 20 years old. I did that kind of stuff. The only record that could have got into was “Baby’s Rich” and everybody thought that that was the one, because like I said, they came to Abbey Road and filmed us in black-and-white and colour. We could get into the chart, because it would have been an opening but we never got into the Top30. Maybe we were in Top40, I don’t know (laughs).
Why did The Gods never reunite?
At the end of 1970, during that time, everybody went their own way, doing their own thing and they went to form Toe Fat. You can tell. We were together for four years and when we broke up, we were really good friends, no arguments, everything was hunky dory. We were very wonderful to each other. We were good, no arguments, nothing… But you could feel and tell that something was going sour, etc. It was like being with your girlfriend and she doesn’t want to give you the time of day. You know something is wrong. So, my mum was begging me because they went to Canada when they left in 1966. I was 19. Maybe it was time for me to take off because you could tell that something was happening. Of course, I never played in Toe Fat. I took off, they went into Toe Fat and Ken left and I saw Toe Fat at a club called The Eastown Theatre in Detroit twice. Cliff Bennett was the lead singer and they had a guitar player called Alan (ed: Kendall – Bee Gees). Oh, great guitar player! A wonderful guy. I think John Glascock was with them the first time I saw them, but I don’t remember the second. But then, Ken took off to do something else, because Ken always moved around a lot: He came in, took off, he came in, took off. The only two bands that he ever hung around a lot was with The Gods 4 years and then probably 6 or 7 years with Uriah Heep. Great band, I was a fan.
Why did you decide to move to Windsor, Ontario in 1970?
My parents moved to Windsor about two years before me. To be honest with you, nothing was there, because I am not in love with England at all. Only we were just there. The only thing that was happening was that I was told that The Hollies were looking for a singer with a high voice, which I have a high voice, but they didn’t want a guitar. Crosby, Stills & Nash were in the States doing their folk stuff. So, I went to their audition at Abbey Road. I wondered if I should do, should I be singing high enough and play rhythm guitar with the harmony? I don’t know. Then, I ‘ve got to wear a suit and a white shirt and a black tie. I don’t know. My mum and my stepfather were always saying: “Why don’t you come over? Come over to Windsor, straight across from Detroit and if you like it, you can always play in Windsor and Detroit, back and forth”. I thought: “I can always fly back if I don’t like it”. I had my guitar, I sold everything else and I flew over there to see what was going on. I stayed with my parents and I started jamming and playing. Within two weeks I was playing Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, for about $400 a week. I said: “Oh, my God!” and then I played somewhere else and Jack Collins from the Canadian Conservatory of Music said: “I want to teach for me. I’ve got 6 studios. I’ll pay you this amount of money” and I said: “Wow, Jesus Christ!” In only 2-3 months I made $6-7.000 and in 1970-71 that was a lot of money. In the end, I ended up buying my own stuff. I own my own studios. Because I am a little disappointed, the house I’m in now, it’s my backhouse. I bought the first one, the second one, the third one, the fourth one, expecting for 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. So, it was good. You had terrible opportunities in Windsor, Canada. I said: “You can always go back for a holiday to England to see what happens” (laughs). But it was good. I enjoy it here. It’s pretty good.
What memories do you have of your jam with Jimi Hendrix at The Speakeasy on 24 February 1969? What songs did you play?
Oh, I can’t remember the songs. We might have played much in 12 bars and I know he loved Bob Dylan. We talked about that before and we did “Like a Rolling Stone”. We played about an hour, you know. I met him a few times before in the clubs that I used to play with The Gods at Revolution, Bag O’Nails, The Marquee Club, all those clubs. I was playing there for 5-6 years, so I knew the owners etc. Then, I got to see Jimi. But anyway, that particular night, he came in a bit stoned and said: “Can I jam with you?” I said: “Yes! It would be an honour. It’s always an honour! The master of the Stratocaster”. We did a lot of stuff. He said: “I want to hear you playing”. So, he sat down. He had a big chair, he sat down and he said: “Play”. Oh, Jesus Christ. I had been intimidated, though. This genius player, the god, is right next to me. But I played in London and we had a great time. John Glascock wasn’t there, another bass player filled in and it was just a lot of fun. We played many times there, at the Speakeasy Club. Keith Moon (ed: The Who drummer) was always there. Paul McCartney showed up a couple of times at the back of the restaurant. A lot of people… Ginger Baker (ed: Cream, Blind Faith -drums)… A lot of people showed up. They liked what we did.
What was Jimi Hendrix like as a person?
He was a total gentleman. I can’t see nothing wrong. I mean, we never went out for dinner or Sunday brunch or dinners. But I used to see him there, especially the last night that I saw him before he took off and a few months later he passed away in the apartment upstairs, that he shared with his girlfriend. As a person, he was wonderful, he was a gentleman, he was quiet. It’s funny because he was wild on stage and he was so quiet off stage. He was a gentleman. A friend of mine who lives in Wales went to the apartment where Jimi and his girlfriend lived, and as you go up the steps to Jimi’s apartment, the first thing he saw -and I never knew that- was a picture of me and Jimi Hendrix, right in front. I said: “What?! This is insane! This is crazy!” and there it was! I’ve got pictures of him myself and he had my photo. For all I know, he was cool. He was a wonderful person.
Are you grateful to the photographer who took that iconic photo of you and Jimi on stage?
Well, I’ll tell you. I would still be around, because there were four people that followed Jimi around and that night I was told there were two and one of them -which I can’t think of his name, it might come to mind “Mike”- he gave me some pictures and there are others on the Internet -I save a lot of photographs- and yes, it was just amazing to have that. I was also told that they were filming something and the Hendrix Foundation of the parents, I know that they may have something maybe a minute or so or two minutes of Jimi playing at the Speakeasy that night. So, we will be able to see if I’m in it. That would be wonderful. I’ve done a lot of interviews. The guy from New York came down, about two years ago, Eddie Kramer , (ed: Jimi’s engineer and producer) and they filmed an interview that was so stunning. They flew down, I have a bunch of interviews and stuff at my house, in the backyard and we met for lunch. They did this whole thing with Eric Burdon (ed: The Animals singer), myself and a bunch of other people and all these anecdotes that he has found on Jimi and he made a DVD of that, but he hasn’t released it yet. It’s been two years. He’s trying to sell it $8 million. We will see what happens (laughs). I’ll let you know.
Did you get to jam with other famous musicians in London at the time?
Yes, because I lived with Lee Kerslake and his mum and dad, Eric and Doris, in Bournemouth and I played a lot at the Bournemouth Pavilion, where Pink Floyd and everybody played. Ken Hensley’s friend was Mick Taylor (guitar) and when Mick Taylor left, I joined up with The Gods, because he went with John Mayall. We used to live at 44 Dukes Avenue in Chiswick, London. So, they used to come over on Sundays when we were all off, like Robert Fripp from King Crimson who were good friends with Greg Lake. I used to share a bedroom with Greg Lake, there was a big room there, everybody would hop in, in one or two. So he had his room, that it was also mine. We lived there because the bedroom was really big; maybe it was a living room, I don’t know. Robert Fripp came over and jammed together, Mick Taylor, all sorts of people hopped in and out. Some people that never made it big, that kind of stuff. I’ve seen an awful lot of talented people even in my younger days in England with The Jazz and Blues Festival. You know, The Small Faces… The Cream were on there, but there were not called The Cream because they didn’t have a name at the time. They were called “Featuring Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker”, but there was no name for the band (laughs). But there was a big marquee there, a big tent. It was enclosed, there were security guards and everybody would go in there, in the tent, turn around and get changed to go up and play on the stage and then would go down again, get changed and take off. I think everybody played there. I watched The Who and everybody and I opened up for The Who several times. Those clubs called The Ricky Tick clubs.
How did it happen to play with Wild Child Butler (blues harmonica player and singer)?
He was a wild brother. He was a little short black guy. He was a good friend of a friend of mine, who is a blues player. He lives in Carmel, California and his name is Stu Heydon. He is a bluesman, he was always a bluesman and he has also his own blues band. Like I said, he lives in Carmel and I was able to see him there. Stu and I, we always played together and every couple of years he plays here in Windsor and does a blues show. He is a good friend of mine. I met Wild Child and he came out listening to me playing, enjoyed me and we ended up playing solo gigs throughout the year, whatever that year was, because he passed away in 2005. He was a great guy. He was with his wife. They were wonderful. He was a wonderful, great harp player. So, it was Stu Heydon, myself and then whoever else he brought in the clubs and places. It was good.
As a young musician you used to play at Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival. Did you have a good time sharing the same stage with bands such as The Who, Cream, The Yardbirds, The Spencer Davis Group and The Small Faces?
In other places, as well. Yeah, it was great. You ‘ve got to remember, we were all 19, 18 at the time, maybe 17. I mean, Stevie Winwood from The Spencer Davis Group was 16 years old. I was 16, 17, 18, 19. I left when I was nearly 19. They were great bands those days. That was a fabulous era: The ‘60s and maybe into the mid of ‘70s. And then, when Madonna came out singing “Like a Virgin”, I think all things went bad (laughs).
Do you think popular music which was written in the ‘60s and ‘70s was much better than today’s music?
You ‘d never see The Who in today’s music. When The Who came out and all those bands, Rory Gallagher when he came out with Taste and everybody else, The Beatles, The Stones… They are still together, praise the Lord. McCartney plays here in Detroit, he comes about twice a year. They are in the end of their life now. I’m 73, so when you are 75, 76 and you are pushing your 80, you are in the end of the road now. To see these guys still hanging around is great. In that era, there were so many awesome musicians and bands like Yes and on and on and on. You’ll never see that today. What we’ve got today? We’ve got Beyoncé, Britney Spears, we have Ariana Grande with the ponytail, a lot of rap music. I mean, the guitar is unfortunately disappearing, it becomes like a dinosaur.
Do you have any regrets in your life?
Oh God, no! I would do it all over again. I would do it all over again, I’m telling you right now. Definitely, I would do it all over again. Because… what an era! It’s not all about money. If I knew then, what I know now, I would be twice as wealthy (laughs). Because when you are 19 years old and the 30, 40, 50-year old producer tells you: “This is what you are doing. This is what you have to do. This is what I want you to do”. At 18 or 19 you wouldn’t want to argue with them, you are just fortunate to do what you are doing. Ken was a wonderful guy, I love the guy. I still speak with Lee Kerslake. I spoke to him about a month ago to see how his health is. I speak with Paul Newton Jr (ed: The Gods, Uriah Heep -bass), because we are still alive. All the Gods are still alive. Some bands have only one or two members. We’re still together (laughs), as I already mentioned. It’s pretty cool. We have always been friends. Never had a problem with anybody. But regrets? Oh no, I have a beautiful life. I have a great life. My daughter plays bass, she’s 24. My son plays guitar. I’m retired. I ‘d buy 7 instruments. I just fool around and I am teaching, I am teaching. I love to see young people to listen to history of how Hendrix played, Jimmy Page, Gary Moore, all those guys, back to the old school. Watching a 15 or 18 or 14-year old kid really playing great and sing, is wonderful to see. No regrets, whatsoever. It’s great.
I would like to ask for your opinion about two guitarists from that era: Do you like Alvin Lee and Ritchie Blackmore’s styles?
We lived at 44 Dukes Avenue in Chiswick area, in London. You can go out about two miles, you have another little area called Ealing and in Ealing, Deep Purple lived and Rod Evans was the singer for Deep Purple. He sang like: “Hush, hush/ I thought I heard hear calling my name now”. Anyway, so he lived there. We went to school together. So, I knew he was in that band because we were still rehearsing at our community center. So, of course I ‘d go over and see Deep Purple in their apartment and Ritchie Blackmore was there and all the guys, Jon Lord and Ian Paice. They were all wonderful. So, Ritchie Blackmore was amazing. My favourite was always Jeff Beck. I loved Jeff Beck when he played! I saw Alvin Lee at Marquee Club in 1966. Ah, he just blew everyone away!! And I went home and I started practicing (laughs). Because that’s what you do. You have those icons, you can’t buy that gift that they had. They were different than anybody else. They were just amazing players like Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds. There were so great players out there. Also, a part of that era were The Gods and Ken. Ken and I, we were always writing together, we were going and had breakfast together then, we were playing together. We were together for nearly four years. We never argued, we were really good friends with Lee and Paul Newton Jr. We were all buddies. It was great. He had a lot of fun because we lived in Andover for a good year. The Troggs used to live in there.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr. Joe Konas for his time.
Joe Konas Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/joe.konas