AMULET: Rockin’ The Midwest
Rockin’ The Midwest
By Curt King
It’s flash back time folks. The summer of 1980 to be exact. A time when I was just starting to “swim in the waters” of all things hard rock. I was in the sixth grade and my appetite for rock music was insatiable. One day a local FM channel (KC-103) announced a band called Amulet and proceeded to play a rockin’ cut called Just Like A Woman. I instantly clicked with their sound (esp. the guitar), which was catchy, melodic Hard Rock with a tinge of blues and some power chords. The songs were memorable and easy to get into -perhaps that’s why I liked it so much.
*Click to listen to “Just Like A Women”
Without a doubt, Amulet were top-notch musicians. Musicians whose hometown was none other than Evansville, Indiana. Evansville is in the South-Western most tip of the state. Yes, the state that kinda’ looks like a “boot”. Follow that to the tip of the “boot”, all the way to the bottom left hand corner and that is in fact where we are kickin’ it from for this special post.
*click for a larger view (design Kathy Cannon)
Amulet’s career was pretty short, but Bob Becker (guitars), Clif Hill (vocals), Paul Skelton (bass) and John Becker (drums) certainly made a stir around the Midwest while active. On a more national level, the band was able to garner some major label interest. Overall most reviews tend to be favorable, but unfortunately some of the various “music journalists” out there have been quite critical of them in their past reviews. Often citing a thin production and or copious amounts of borrowed styles/sounds from certain bands.
Forget what those sharp-tongued critics have said, if you are into early releases from: Aerosmith, Kansas, Montrose, ZZ Top, B.O.C., Van Halen, Nazareth, Robin Trower, Heart, Bad Company, Uriah Heep etc. then you most likely will like Amulet’s music as well. Do I think they ripped-off these bands? No. Are they possibly influenced by these band -of course. Was their sound groundbreaking? No. Was it revolutionary or totally original? Nope. But it certainly was well-played, honest, Midwestern music that I thought deserved much more attention! Read on…
In 1980 it was a totally different time in the music industry. There was no such thing as the internet, so it wasn’t very easy to promote your band and or get a recording/management contract —let alone being so far removed from the main music industry hubs of New York or Los Angeles. Even though this put the band in somewhat of a “pickle” -I fully respect them for writing original material and for recording their self-financed album essentially “live” in the studio (with a very small budget I might add). This may be the norm now, but it certainly wasn’t in 1980!
At the end of the day, what separated their memorable songs from the multitudes, was solid musicianship and good-time vibes. It’s all about the total package. And that was a irresistibly confident slab of vinyl that has slowly developed into quite the underground rock collectors piece.
When their music came blasting out of my trusty Pioneer tower speakers some 30 years ago, little did I know that these guys were from the same state I was from and very close to where I lived at the time! After all these years, I was finally able to track these guys down for an exclusive interview. I wanted to get the low-down straight from them, as there were always some rumors surrounding the band and they seemed to be somewhat of a local anomaly.
Please join us for this rare glimpse of Amulet, as Curt King conducted two rounds of interviews. One with (founding member and lead guitarist) Bob Becker and then with lead vocalist Clif Hill.
CURT KING: Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. Please tell us about the name Amulet and how that came about.
CLIF: “Our fearless leader Bob came up with the name. We all loved it! First of all it starts with the first letter of the alphabet (top of the list when searching), and just the thought of a good luck charm to ward off evil seemed like a cool thing. We even discussed having medallions made from the logo (the “A” in the middle of a circle) but never did. I wish we had now!”
BOB: “Clif says the name Amulet was from me. Honestly, I don’t remember who came up with it, but all of us liked it so we took it for our name.”
You played lead guitar and your brother played drums in the band, how did you guys get started in music?
BOB: “I started music around the third grade with song flute, then clarinet. I was also in choir from fourth through seventh grades. I was not in educational music in high school or beyond. While in high school I decided to learn guitar and play rock. It was/is a medium I found to be an excellent way to express emotions. My aunt bought me an acoustic guitar for my fourteenth birthday. While learning a few fundamental chords and runs on it (from watching friends play and by chord charts etc.), I was invited to play with a friend. Since he was a guitarist, I took up bass and bought some equipment. After several months of playing bass I switched back to guitar, bought equipment for that, and worked hard every single day to improve my skills on it. I got to where I could push a few things out of it.”
“I don’t remember my brother [John] getting as much formal training as me in school. He hung with me and some musician friends of mine who jammed together. He was interested in drums much more so than strings or keyboards. After a period of time playing on counter tops, tables, boxes, and whatever, he finally got a kit! He played on them until he became able to express himself through them. I was very impressed by his style and abilities and always kept the prospect of working with him in the back of my mind. Eventually, we got the opportunity to work together when Amulet came into being.”
It seems like your family is really into music perhaps?
BOB: “We have three younger brothers who play together now, with their singer/front man, Terry Chamberlain. They have a good, tight sound. Ed plays bass, Steve plays lead guitar and Mark plays drums. They don’t write, but play more for fun. They do clubs now and then and also special occasions…mostly for friends. They do 70′s, 80′s and 90′s rock.
Tell us where your family is from? I know the West Side of Evansville has a large German population but you seem to have more of a Euro (Polish/German/Native American Indian) look in some photos.
BOB: “I’ve been told that I look like I have Native American in me and I would be proud of it if it were so —but to the best of my knowledge I am 100% of German decent.”
What about you Clif -where are you from and did you have family who were into music?
CLIF: “I lived in Princeton, IN. most of my life. It’s a little town about twenty-five miles north of Evansville. I did live in and outside of E’ville for a few years but Princeton is my hometown. I went to school there -all the way through high school and played music there and in surrounding towns in IN., IL., and KY. I got into music at a young age. I played my first school dance while in Jr. High school. I did have an aunt and uncle who played often and owned a music store. He was a guitar player + teacher and she was a drummer. I’m not sure how much influence they had in me deciding that I wanted to sing, but musical instruments and instruction were always available to me. I really think that radio and records just called out to me to be in music and singing was what I wanted to do.”
What was your role while in the band and how long have you been playing?
CLIF: “I was the lead vocalist for Amulet. I wrote all the lyrics including the vocal melodies and harmonies. I did strum twelve string acoustic guitar on the song “Do You Live Again” but I never considered myself an accomplished guitar player. My true passion lies in singing! I started my first band in Southern Indiana back in the sixties at age fourteen. I strummed rhythm guitar and of course sang. We did sock hops and proms and youth centers -which were big back then. From there it was of course one band after another until sometime in my forties when I decided to leave the stage. My thoughts about music are pretty simple. If you are meant to be in it then you will. It’s something that chooses you.”
Is it safe to say that you [Bob] wrote most of the music or how did that break down as far as the songs on the LP?
BOB: “Most of the music was composed by me. The exceptions are: Do You Live Again – Clif Hill – music and lyrics. Funk N Punk – Paul Skelton – music (main body), Bob Becker – contributor (bridge), Gemini – Clif Hill – music and lyrics (main body), Bob Becker – Contributor (general). I also wrote the lyrics to verses one & two and the choruses to both Kings & Queens and Life Is Living. Clif wrote verse three to both. In my mind, Clif is a brilliant writer.”
It seems you were the chief lyric writer Clif, can you please expand upon the song writing process?
CLIF: “I will start by saying I did write all the lyrics on the record with one exception. The song “Life Is Living” was primarily written by Bob Becker. I did add some lines and switched things around a bit to suit my vocal delivery, but none-the-less I have always seen it as his song. I did write some of the music on the album though. I would like to elaborate a little about how all Amulet music was created. Bob and I were a song writing team and worked well together, but I think our method of writing was a little different. One might think that as a lyricist I had a notebook of lyrics (or poems) and we would go through them, find one we liked and add music to make a song out of it. This was never the case with us. It never worked for me.”
“Our compositions always started with the music. Bob, whose musical ideas make up most of the record, would show up to rehearsal with a musical idea. It may just be a riff or a passage or even a near complete song. We would all work together and develop the idea into something we liked. We would record it on this cheesy reel to reel and I would take it home to work on. The song title, subject, lyrics and melody came solely from how the music made me feel. Sometimes I had it finished in one night and sometimes it took weeks, but the music would literally take me somewhere and I would then write about it. Next I would track a scratch vocal part and bring it back to rehearsal. From there we would all add our final parts. Bob would write his guitar parts, Paul would write his bass lines, and John would write his drum parts. Put it all together, add a little harmony vocals, rehearse it a few times, and if we liked it we kept it and moved on to the next one.”
“In my mind, Clif is a brilliant writer.” Bob Becker
What is the age difference between members and did you guys always play together or did you jam in any other bands or “side projects”?
BOB: “I am roughly two and a half years older than John. We got to jam together occasionally, once working in a band together. But nothing we took anywhere until Amulet.”
CLIF: “The members in Amulet were all fairly close in age, probably only four or five years difference between all of us so I felt that we could work together without age difference being a hurdle. When Bob formed the band, we got together a few times and we decided to give a go at the goals we set out to do. We worked exclusively on putting covers together to play out and make money to fund our original project. There was simply no time or real desire for outside projects. We would rehearse as many times as possible through the week and play out as often as we could.”
Were you self-taught or who helped you learn to play the guitar or sing?
BOB: “Other than watching friends play in my very early days, I am self-taught. I think that helped me to be unique and I’ve enjoyed the satisfaction of playing and not always being compared to whomever.”
CLIF: “I played in the school band. I tried to join playing drums but got stuck with the trombone. I do have to say that I learned a lot about musical arrangement in the school band (even if it was with the trombone), but by my later high school years, my rock band took over and I just didn’t have the time or desire to stay in the school band.”
Who were your influences at the time and what was the local rock scene like?
BOB: “My strongest influences were from such artists as Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Eric Clapton and Mark Farner (Grand Funk). I just play the way I play and was fortunate enough to have played with a band or two with whom my style worked. As far as the rock scene here in the Evansville area, there was no “rock” to speak of in clubs and such. Disco was the thing and live rock was in the back seat somewhere. In fact, people told us that it won’t work because of the popularity of Disco. Most said we’d never even find a place to play. Clif found a small club here in Evansville that gave us a try. Before long we were packing it!”
CLIF: “My earliest influences had to be Johnny Cash and Elvis, mainly because those were the records I had access to in my home as a kid. I sang along with every song on those old records (hundreds of times over), so I have to say that I learned the basics from listening to them. Next in line to make a major impact on me would have to be the Beatles. I was eleven in 1963 when the Beatles hit America and I followed them from Meet The Beatles right on through Sargent Pepper and The White Album. By 1970 the Beatles were gone and so many good rock bands hit the airways it’s impossible to name them all but many (such as Hendrix, Joplin, Clapton, Deep Purple, The Who, Eric Burdon, Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa, Heart, Rush, Jethro Tull, Foreigner, Grand Funk Railroad, and my favorite Uriah Heep) had influences on me. Although I was deeply influenced by these great bands, I never felt like I patterned myself after any one sound when it came to writing music or singing. I just did what I felt! I knew at a very young age that I was to be a singer and maybe even some day write music. I was mesmerized with the thought and set out to make it happen.”
“When it comes to the local music scene around Southern Indiana, it seemed to me to be a contest as to who could be the best cover band and play the popular clubs. This is what I think set Amulet apart from all the others at the time. Sure, we played covers and we also played all the hot spots Evansville had to offer, but the highlight of our shows was our original tunes (that were being aired on local radio). Other local bands at the time had original tunes but weren’t focused on making them the reason to come see them. Most of Amulet’s crowds came to hear our music, not the cover stuff!”
“My thoughts about music are pretty simple. If you are meant to be in it then you will. It’s something that chooses you.” Clif Hill
Can you give us a detailed account of how the début LP came about – maybe leading up to it, during the recording and after its release?
BOB: “We were very careful as to whom our players would be because of what we were doing. Our sole purpose was to write, perform and record our own material. Our belief was that to succeed it would take more than just song writing and composing artists. It would take artists whose work not only connected with and complemented one another, but artists whose work connected with the listeners. That was and is absolutely key.”
“After several months of learning and playing cover material in clubs (while composing and blending our original material into our live sets) we decided to go to a studio and record our originals. We all agreed to personally forgo payment from our live engagements and use the proceeds to finance the project.”
“Once we finished recording and the mix down sessions, it was off to the pressing plant where several thousand vinyl LP copies would be made. Once we received those, we approached almost every major independent record store in the immediate area. Most agreed to display and sell it. In less than a week almost all of them had run low, or were completely out of stock and requested more. Within about three months, our stock was nearly depleted. We decided against pressing any more, so sales came to a halt when the stores ran out.”
“KC-103 (the most listened to rock station in the area -ed) picked up on the album and decided to try putting an Amulet song in light rotation on their play list. They selected Just Like A Woman. Within a few days, it was getting significant requests from listeners, so they decided to move it to “hot” rotation and add another cut to their rotation. Soon, the listeners were requesting more Amulet material and more cuts were added. One of the DJ’s asked us for a live on-air interview. When we went to the station, he told us that our material was getting more requests than any of the major artists’ and showed us caller request sheets that indicated the same! The effort turned out to be a big success (on a local level). The album later attracted the interest of major companies in the recording industry.”
AMULET – Amulet (1980 Shadow Records)
Clif Hill – vocals, Bob Becker – guitars, John Becker – drums, Paul Skelton – bass
01 Just Like A Woman
02 Sea Of Fear
03 Do You Live Again
04 Kings & Queens
05 Person To Person
06 Funk N Punk
08 Life Is Living
09 New Day
Tell us your account Clif.
CLIF: “The band was formed through the efforts of Bob Becker to accomplish one thing, and that was to write the music we were feeling at the time. The quest to put our music out there to see what would happen was our goal. Everything else we did was for that purpose. When it was time to take it to the studio we did that too. The album was tracked in one weekend with no click track and no overdubbing except for some of the vocal tracks. We intended for the album to be what you would hear at a live performance, and I think we did that!”
“We got a real break in our choice of studios in the Mid-West and found someone who knew the ropes and was willing to work with our budget. We found George Cumby Jr. at Audio Creations studio in Paducah, Kentucky and thank him for all his wisdom in recording and production. He helped us make it what it is. He was fantastic and his studio was flawless. After the session was finished, we went home to wait on the pressing. We had one-thousand albums pressed in Nashville and we couldn’t wait to get them home!”
*Click to listen to “Life is Living”
Was this the first real recording studio experience for the band?
BOB: “Prior to the recording sessions, none of us had any studio experience to speak of. It is so much different from playing live and we had somewhat of a difficult time relaxing and adjusting to the studio environment. As a result, we found that our performances in the studio didn’t flow as it should have.”
Who produced the recording sessions and where was it mixed + mastered at?
BOB: “The record was self-produced (with suggestions here and there) by George Cumbee Jr. —the studio owner/engineer. I think the record could have been better if we had an experienced producer to help us. George was good. I think that had we listened more to him, we could have released something better, especially in terms of overall sound quality and mix. The record was released under the label Shadow Records. I think that might have been George’s “standard label” so to speak. Mixing was by George Cumbee Jr. with our input. It was mastered by John Eberle @ NRP in Nashville, TN.”
I sent out the “rock n’ roll bloodhounds” and believe it or not (after thirty years) I was able to track down Mr. George Cumbee Jr. for some comments.
Here’s what he had to say:
What can you tell us about your experience while working with Amulet?
GEORGE: “Wow, what a blast from the past. I don’t remember a lot of specifics but I can offer some info about the two projects I did for them. As I remember, the guys contacted me and came down one weekend and did [basically] a demo session. A “one day thing” as I remember. Of course this was back in the pre-digital analog era, so we were recording on 2″ tape. We did it on a sixteen track console. Sometime later they contacted me again and wanted to do an album. This time they were much more selective about sounds. I think the first session was a learning experience and they had talked to people and or learned more about what they felt they wanted.”
What was your initial/first impression of the band coming in?
GEORGE: “They were a very good group, well-rehearsed and professional on their instruments (also with a very good lead singer). They seemed very dedicated!”
What about the mix session(s)?
GEORGE: “That was pre-automation days so everything was manual. There was no programming the fader moves or mutes or anything, but since they were a three piece group with vocals it was not hard to mix. It was more about just getting the sound and going with it. Quite honestly, that is about all I remember. I don’t recall if they did cassettes or eight tracks. I was doing those then also…I think they only did the LP. Of course back then, mostly all we did was a 12″ LP.”
What was your overall opinion about the band?
GEORGE: “My overall opinion was that they were a great bunch of guys to work with. They were very precise [perfectionists] and I had to get used to that. I had mainly worked with people who were not so much that way. But it was refreshing to work with guys who knew what they wanted. I was always just so afraid that maybe I was not the person to deliver it.”
Looking back, as a more-experienced producer now…how would you sum up the overall project?
GEORGE: “I think in the end, they were as happy as they could be for that time (with what we all knew and had to work with). Great artists are never happy with what they do. They always feel they could have done better. But that is what makes great artists. The problem is deciding when it’s as good as it can get right then. If you look back months or years later and see that it could have been better, then you have improved. You have gotten better.”
Thank you George for taking the time to give us your point of view!
GEORGE: “I hope that has helped some. I wish I could offer more, but my old brain just cannot gather up much more on the subject. I remember that much because I have told their story a few times over the years. Please tell them hello for me and I hope they are all doing well.”
Tell us about the cover artwork or design -it has a cool D.I.Y. look to it ?
BOB: “The cover art work was done by my sister, Kathy Cannon. She used the Amulet logo, superimposing it onto the silhouettes for the front cover. She also did the back cover.”
Sounds like the LP was received very well?
CLIF: “The release of the album was (in our eyes) a huge success. We sold out within just a month or two and we had record crowds at all our venues after the release. Evansville welcomed the music of Amulet and we loved being there for them.”
BOB: “The record was received better than anyone anticipated.”
If you could do it all over again, would you change anything as far as the LP or the band?
BOB: “We had a very small budget with which to pay for the recording sessions and pressing. We only had around $3,000 to spend for the entire project. That meant not fixing errors in the playing and a brief period for the mix down. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to do a quick and dirty job with the project. I think that a number of other things we may have done differently with a better budget and more experience. A couple of other things might be to have included more songs and done a different mix in places. From a sales perspective, we probably could have sold a significant number more had we gone ahead with a second pressing —people were asking for it long after they were sold out.”
CLIF: “As far as the album goes, I would change many things. But we didn’t have the money to do that. If we had a larger budget there were many things we would have improved on. It’s not like we didn’t see that the record could have been better. It certainly could have, but there was no one funding our efforts but us. Money is and remains to be a factor in what a record sounds like in the end. As far as the band, I wouldn’t change anything! We blended very well and it could have been much more that it ended up being if we only could have matured together a little more.”
*check out those silk jackets and velour shirts -love it!
For nostalgia sakes, can you name some bands that you played with and did you ever play at Funky’s?
BOB: “I can remember playing concerts with Destiny (some friends of ours), Taylor Bay Band, and T. F. Much. We played Kramer’s Lake once or twice and played Weslake a few times. All of those appearances were concert settings and not dance settings. We played the Victory two or three times after the LP was released. We never played Funky’s.
Did you ever play at Kramer’s Lake?
CLIF: “It was a “try out” of sorts with Kramer’s Lake. In the early spring they would hold a free fling to try out new bands to book for their summer season. When we got in the line-up we were excited but knew we wouldn’t be picked. We simply did not play the Top 40 dance music they were looking for and we knew it. We just used the opportunity to get out in front of local listeners and see their response. For the most part the crowd was receptive but it was the rockers that enjoyed it the most. We were somewhat nervous because we knew the majority wanted dance music and we were playing stuff like Ritchie Blackmore’s “Man On The Silver Mountain” and other similar rock tunes. The rockers loved it and jammed along with us but the management (as expected) passed on booking the band. We didn’t play any original tunes as I remember. We weren’t ready to let them hear what we were writing. We just wanted to let Evansville know that we are here and a band like us was coming soon. It wasn’t long after that, we started getting gigs doing what we loved to do- rock!”
Other than live shows, was there any special promo for it at the time (like press, interviews, special appearance etc.)?
BOB: “Other than our live engagements, we did two live interviews on KC-103 (a popular local FM rock radio station -ed). We also did an interview with the local newspaper. In addition, we appeared at a number of concerts with other area bands, and made a number of special appearances at area clubs.”
*click to enlarge newspaper clip
CLIF: “KC-103 was paramount in supporting the efforts of Amulet. We were fortunate to have a 103 DJ, Eric Stone (on air alias “Stone Man”) as a relentless follower. He was in constant contact and initiated live performances associated with the station as well as other highlight radio spots for the band. I would like to thank him for his help!”
In 81′ radio station KC-103 (WHKC) decided to release Home Cookin’, a compilation LP featuring local and regional bands.
The purpose was to attempt to get the local area bands heard by the record companies. “Gemini” was included on the album.
*Click to listen to “Gemini”.
Some of the people who I turned onto your music say it reminds them of the début Van Halen album (released Feb.1978 -ed). Were they an influence or is it just a “sign of the times” (as far as recording studio gear and or instruments go) perhaps?
BOB: “Although we did some Van Halen covers, I don’t think they were much, if any influence on me or the band.”
Local rumor is that you guys couldn’t get along internally and ended up going your separate ways -is that true?
BOB: “Leading up to the time that Atlantic Records contacted us, one of our members had had a change of heart about what he wanted to do with his music. It was different from the other three of us and what we started out as a group to do. That lead to a break up.”
CLIF: “The big break up question…there are few bands out there today who have stood the test of time. To say it is one persons fault is really unfair. Did I want Amulet to break up? No, but it did and we all went our separate ways.”
What was the best thing that ever happened to you while in Amulet and the worst memory?
BOB: “The best thing that happened was being so well accepted and supported by our fans and attracting the interest of major record companies. It’s rare that such support is realized on that level in this area. It’s hard to pick one good thing. Some of them include: having the opportunity and privilege to play with such great musicians and artists, having such great support people with us, and having done the album. We were once approached by a representative of REO Speedwagon with an invitation to tour with them. We declined because we didn’t have a record label to support the efforts or a comfort level with what might happen when the tour was over. We all had small children at the time and didn’t feel that we should risk the well-being of our families if we crashed after the tour was over. The worst thing that happened was the breakup of the band before we achieved our goal of being signed by a major label.”
CLIF: “The best and worst in my days with Amulet are easy to say. The best was to be accepted by people locally and in other places in the world. The worst was to see it end.”
First “boogie-down” session at The Dungeon! Pic© Marty Hill
What do you remember about your very first Amulet gigs & were the early audiences receptive to you? Maybe you can close your eyes and paint us a “visual” picture of that experience?
BOB: “I believe our first gig was at The Dungeon in downtown Evansville. The room was in the basement of the Victory Theater. It had formerly hosted live bands and jazz more so than anything else. I don’t remember if we did any Amulet songs during that performance, but we did on at least one return engagement there. During a first gig, everyone is somewhat apprehensive, particularly about readiness and reception by the people. It turns out that we were ready enough and yes, the audience was very receptive. At that time, as far as live rock music, it was almost non-existent in Evansville. Disco was about all that was here other than Country music. During a return engagement there, is where we were approached by the member of the REO Speedwagon management staff.”
*The crowd is feelin’ it now! Pic© Marty Hill
When you first heard your original songs on the radio, what came to mind and did you ever imagine that would happen?
BOB: “That reinforced our belief that we could realize considerable success on a larger scale. We really didn’t see such a thing happening on a local level before KC-103 (and its listeners) got behind us as they did. We did however, believe that it would happen once we had a release on a major label.”
CLIF: “Even though Evansville is a small town, it was unbelievable to hear yourself on the most popular local hard rock radio station! It was definitely a feeling of accomplishment and a compliment to all our hard work at writing rock music. In a way it was hard to believe that it was really happening.”
Bob @ Kramer’s Lake – rockin’ the Flying V!
As you stated, other genres of music were quite popular when you were coming onto the music “scene” —how did Funk, Punk and or Disco music affect the band?
CLIF: “The late 70′s spawned a lot of changing music. We stayed focused on what we loved. We got together to write and perform “rock” music, and for us there was no other kind. In fact, our song “Funk-N-Punk” was our attempt at turning a funky + punk sound into a rock song. I would have to say that other types of music affected the band very little.”
BOB: “We didn’t pay much attention to anything else in those regards. We kept our focus on what we were doing. It seemed that no matter what else was going on, our popularity continued to increase. There was no need to watch or battle the other things.”
If you could be a “fly” on the wall, what famous recording session(s) would you like to have witnessed or “overheard”? I would love to have sat-in on the Electric Ladyland sessions for Jimi Hendrix because of the experimentation of sound that was going on!
BOB: “I think it would have been fun to see Jimi in a recording session. But I like “Are You Experienced” the best of all his work, so I would have been at those sessions. Second choice, Deep Purple for their Shades sessions.”
CLIF: “I would have loved to witness Deep Purple’s Fireball album being recorded. I have some tracks from the session on a limited release CD and it seems they had a lot of fun while recording. Others would be anything by Joplin, Clapton, Zappa, and of course Uriah Heep.”
Who are some of your favorite guitar players?
BOB: “This is a deep question. There are so many, so I’m going with kind of a short and sweet answer. Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and Eric Clapton (to name a few of the great rock guitar artists). They are probably the ones who had the most influence on me in my early days. But there are many others I also enjoy. Some are very well-known and some not so well-known. I also think some of the bands that have come out in the last five years or so have some very interesting music and guitar work.”
Can you please name some of these bands.
BOB: “I like: Government Mule, Seether, Audio Slave, Death Cab For Cutie, Mutemath, Silversun Pickups, Mad At Gravity (excellent band), Incubus, Sixx: AM, Three Days Grace, Anberlin and Green Day. I’m not as intimate with their music and members as I was with bands in the past, but they are all excellent in my opinion.”
What inspired you the most to want to play guitar and also ultimately been in a band?
BOB: “When I was younger I aspired to play either trumpet or sax because they allow you to be very expressive. As I got a bit older and started listening to rock, it occurred to me that the same could be done with a guitar, in somewhat of a different way. Rock quickly became the music of choice for me and I learned some guitar and set sail. I felt that I wanted to play with others and not by myself, so I played with lots of different people until I found the ones I worked best with.”
Clif what inspired you the most to want to be a singer?
CLIF: “First of all I would just be singing because I enjoy it, but the thrill of rocking a crowd and having the people singing with you and having just as much fun as you are is what makes being in a band something special.”
Who are your favorite singers?
CLIF: “I have been inspired by many great singers out there through the years. They would include (and I’m sure I’ll be leaving some out): Ian Gillan (Deep Purple/Black Sabbath), David Coverdale (Whitesnake/Deep Purple), Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep), John Lawton (Uriah Heep/Lucifer’s Friend)), Robert Plant, Ann and Nancy Wilson (Heart), Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac). For a totally different direction: Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Kelly Clarkson and one of the most amazing voices I have heard lately Carrie Underwood!”
Bob, you were joined by your brother in the band, was it difficult finding the other two members of the band and or the right pieces to the puzzle?
BOB: “I had the good fortune of meeting Clif several years before Amulet. I answered and ad for a lead guitar player in the local newspaper and got an audition with the band. Clif was their lead vocalist. They were doing cover material exclusively, but I demonstrated my desire to compose and do original material by showing the band some of my compositions. Clif took notice and it happened that he and I shared that desire. Because of conflicts between myself and others in the band, I didn’t stay with them very long. But Clif and I stayed in touch after I left. When it came time that I was looking for a serious and talented lead vocalist to write and perform with, I contacted him. I had never written with him, nor had I heard any of his compositions. But I knew in my soul that he was a great talent —things worked out even better than I had imagined they would.”
“I had played with Paul for years before Amulet and recognized his immense talent and creativity. He was a one of a kind bass player whose feel for things and performance of the same was what I wanted to play with. I always felt that our styles complemented one another and wanted to continue working together. I don’t think I ever played with a bass player whose style was so much aligned with mine. Clif and Paul gave me the best feelings I ever had while playing a guitar or composing. They are both absolutely outstanding, mature talents, so easy and fun to play with.”
“Every single time I’d hear him my brother John play his drums I was impressed. He displayed great technique, a cleanliness, maturity, and deep passion with every stroke. I knew all along that as soon as it came time for me to need a drummer —he was my man! With all three of these guys, writing and performing music was never hard. When someone would come up with something new, the others would just let it flow (seemingly effortlessly) and our music would come together.”
*Nice double bass kit!
You were united by the two Becker brothers, was it difficult finding the members of the band and or the right pieces to the puzzle?
CLIF: “Oddly enough this posed no problems for us. Bob and Paul had played together before, and I had been in a previous band with him as well. While it was John’s first real band situation, his percussion talents fit the sound like a glove. Putting the band together was really Bob’s doing and he chose the right pieces to complete the Amulet puzzle.”
You were a rarity on the local music scene for the fact that you played originals and actually put out a self-financed LP. Do you think you had any impact on other local bands to follow in your foot steps?
CLIF: “There were other bands at the time trying to get attention with original music. I have to think that the big difference between them and Amulet was that we highlighted our original sound. It was the reason we were together and the peak of our shows. We didn’t make a name playing copy tunes. I know other bands tried to make it with their own music but somehow didn’t make it their quest. Playing the clubs to make money was more important and to do that you had to focus on the songs that were popular at the time.”
BOB: “I can’t say that Amulet was the only band writing material at the time, but I think we were definitely an influence on others. Having said that, I think we realized more success than others who might have followed our example or were doing things a different way.”
What do you think of the current music scene in Southern Indiana (also compared to back when you were playing)?
BOB: “Bare in mind that I’ve been away from this for a long time, so all of this is just my sense of things. I think that for a while (before maybe 4-5 years ago), live rock was pretty hard to find. It seems to me that DJ’s and Hip Hop may have had an effect on live rock similar to how Disco did years ago. I would hear of a band playing a club every now and again, but it didn’t seem to be an ongoing thing. However, I think that over the past 2-3 years things have improved. By talking to people and hearing and reading ads, there seems to be several bands performing here now with some being quite good. I’m not sure who or how many are writing and recording (or who or how many aspire to do what Amulet was doing), but I have to believe that some are very serious about their music.”
CLIF: “I don’t know much about the current scene in Indiana these days, but I would imagine it’s still about the same as before. I’m sure there are great players and singers all over town and those who are trying to write that one magic song to launch a career.”
Do you still play today?
CLIF: “I have been mostly idle for the past ten years. I really thought I could put music aside and do other things but living in Austin and not getting involved in music is hard to do, especially if you have experience. I get together with a friend once in a while and we have written several tunes together, but we are not really pursuing a “working” band. I do get up with a local house band and sing a few from time to time and have to admit that another go at music has crossed my mind, but I’m unsure if I want to go through all that again -especially at this age! Although we are not doing gigs (and have no real plans to form a band) I think we’re coming up with some good stuff. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
BOB: “I play on rare occasion, always with close friends, as does John.”
The album was re-released on CD back in 2000. Tell us about that.
CLIF: “I received a phone call from a guy in Dallas Texas stating that he had tried to find who sang for Amulet. He said that his associate had found a used album in Chicago that he was interested in re-producing in CD form and releasing under a company called Monster Records. It had been 20 years since the record was made and the band broke up. I was astonished!
“We ended up contracting with them and entering a deal to sell our music on their internet site. We did get some royalties but the best thing [for me] out of that venture was to have people from other parts of the world get in touch with us. In fact, I was just in contact with someone from Japan who put us on YouTube and entered us in a book of rock bands there. They said they were fans for ten years —I had no idea. We also had a lot of interest from Germany and the great rock lovers there too!”
BOB: “Clif started getting a phone call now and then from a start-up record label out of Texas called (at the time) Monster Records (now called Rockadrome -ed). The conversations centered around their interest in signing us to do a CD re-release of our LP. We reached an agreement with Monster on a five year contract with a five year renewal option. We went into it thinking that if we saw a reasonable amount of sales (or interest from a larger label) we’d resume writing and recording new material for release. Once everything was completed, they did the release, but it had very limited success. Monster had a pretty fair distribution network including it’s web site and some well-known North American, European and Asian outlets. But the problem was there was not nearly enough promotion.”
Were you happy with the sales of the re-issue and what about any new material?
BOB: “We did realize some sales of the CD and a number of reviews on a worldwide basis. When we signed (expecting that this could rouse new interest) the four of us decided that we’d re-form and resume writing and recording, and do at least one more release through Monster. But before anything really got off the ground, one of our members seemed to have lost interest in the project again. After the initial five year contract term, Monster didn’t express interest in renewal, nor did we.” (*which now makes even the CD re-issue hard to get unfortunately -ed)
Looking back, now that the band has been on permanent “hiatus” if-you-will -what is your fondest memory?
BOB: “I’ll have to say that my fondest memory is the overall privilege of having played with such artist as Clif, Paul and John.”
CLIF: “It would have to be a concert we did right at home in Evansville. It was a city celebration and it was held on the river behind the museum. All the best local bands were invited and we had just released our album. There was a huge sound system and elaborate stage lighting. We went on just before dark and we played our album start to finish. The crowd of two-thousand or so was great and screamed the whole time. It was the greatest feeling to be so appreciated by your own home town.”
Thank you for your time and we really appreciate you allowing us to pick your brain (and clear out some of those cob webs) about all things Amulet. I for one, would love to hear some new music if that ever materializes in the near future! Any last parting words or anything you would like to add?
AMULET Technical Staff
BOB: “I’d like to add that our road and technical staff were the epitome of dedication, excellence, and were so good to us that I can’t describe it. They saw to everything we needed and made it possible for us to do things that we otherwise might not have been able to do. I just can’t find words or say enough about them: David Scott (road manager & sound engineer), Buddy Cottingham (drums & lights), John Wells (amps & lights). Thank you, Curt, for seeking us out after all this time and doing this article on us. Doing these interviews has brought back a lot of great memories. It’s been a pleasure working with you.”
CLIF: “I’d like to give special thanks to you for your interest in Amulet. It’s a little flattering to still have folks showing interest in our music after all this time. I’ve played the CD for a lot of people (young and old) in Austin and it still amazes me that they think it is some big time band from the past! I hope we can stay in touch and I am looking forward to seeing the interviews on your site. Keep up the great work my friend.”
So there you have it folks. We hope you have enjoyed our little trip down memory lane with Amulet and the latest blast from the past from the Demolish Metal Network!
*These discussions did not happen at the same time but I wanted to compile them here for the Demolish readers to get a more detailed/intimate insider’s point of view.