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Progressive Rock Interviews

Happy The Man

Interviewed by Steve Alspach
Interview with Stan Whitaker and Frank Wyatt of Happy The Man from 2005
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at https://garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2005.

Hello, Stanley!
Stan Whitaker: Hello! Frank is available for about ten or fifteen minutes, let's see if I can get him. (Rings up Frank Wyatt, currently in Pennsylvania for an Al Stewart / Annie Haslam concert).
MSJ: Hi, Frank! I hear you're listening to Annie Haslam?
Frank Wyatt: Yeah, Al just finished so it's intermission.


Stan Whitaker: Well, you speak better English than most people who've been interviewing us on the telephone. We've been getting a lot of European guys who don't have that much of a grasp of the English language - But that's okay! We have a lot more fans in Europe than we do over here.
MSJ: I've enjoyed your newest CD very much and I guess the first question is: what took so long?
Stan Whitaker: Well, we all kind of went our separate ways. Some guys were on the west coast, Frank was in Hawaii, so it was really a matter of everybody trying to hook up at the same place at the same time. I was playing with Ten Jinn which was down in Mexico, and to make a long story short, the guys who put on Nearfest were down there, and came up to me and basically convinced me that if I were to put Happy the Man together that we'd be headlining some of these festivals, and that was really the impetus to put it back together. I called Frank and Rick (Kennell) and they were both really into it, and that's what really got the ball rolling.

There was a long hiatus, and it was the year 2000 that we got together to do Nearfest, and then it took a few years to get the material together.


Frank Wyatt: It took us a while to settle on a drummer. We had to go through some drummer auditions to get the drum chair filled.
MSJ: It kept exploding?
Stan Whitaker: It kept exploding, kind of that Spinal Tap-ian thing.
MSJ: So you picked up Joe (Berganini) on drums and David Rosenthal on keyboards. I was really struck by how much David sounds like Kit Watkins.
Stan Whitaker: Apparently old Happy the Man was one of Dave's favorite bands of all time. He really captured that flavor and feel better than we could have ever hoped. He emulates Kit very well as well as having a bit of his own style and sound, and he surprised us with the writing, because I think a couple of his tunes sound like Kit's.
MSJ: There's that sense of continuity that says "If you liked Happy the Man in the seventies, you'll like them in 2005!"
Stan Whitaker: That's what we were going for. We wanted the album to sound like it could have come right after "Crafty Hands".
MSJ: So how has the album been received?
Stan Whitaker: Really well over in Europe, and that's why we're trying to get Inside/Out to bring us over there. There's a lot of talk about bringing us over to Germany. I think if we got over there, it would really help skyrocket the band here. This country, it's hard to say - we have little pockets of proggers throughout the country that are into us but certainly not on the level that we'd like it to be.


Frank Wyatt: I'm going to have to go. Sorry, guys, they're dimming the lights. I'm glad I was able to help so much.

(laughter)
MSJ: Well, let me ask about some of the compositions that you came up with. I noticed on the first HTM album that there was a bit of humor that you don't often hear with prog. There was "Knee Bitten Nymphs"...
Stan Whitaker: Yeah, "Stumpy Meets the Firecracker"...I treated those songs as cartoons.
MSJ: "Lunch at the Psychedelicatessen" is pretty much the same thing, sort of that bouncy feel.
Stan Whitaker: That's very, very much in the same vein, there. We figure that a lot of music is so serious that we really shouldn't take ourselves too seriously. So, that's why we have the comic titles.
MSJ: Like "Barking Spiders"?
Stan Whitaker: Yeah, I've always tried to take things on a lighter bent there and even try to inject a little bit of the humor into the actual music. I think that so many proggers are so serious and symphonic that you think, "come on. Lighten up, guys!"

Apparently a lot of the proggers in Europe are more into the heavier side things, the metal sound. I think a lot of our stuff they don't quite get because it's just not heavy enough for them, and a lot of our mellower tone-poem stuff is definitely beyond their grasp.
MSJ: But apparently you do still have quite a following over there.
Stan Whitaker: Well, Germany - we've done a ton of interviews in Germany. We've done a few in France and Italy, and a number in the Netherlands. That seems to be where most of our fan base lies.
MSJ: That's Europe for you. I've been to the Amsterdam airport and the CD store has a whole section on progressive.
Stan Whitaker: I don't know what's going on here in the States. Maybe you can help!
MSJ: Hey, we're here to serve. Let me ask: you've been in music for a number of years - how do you retain a sense of freshness?
Stan Whitaker: Well, it's pretty much as the muse hits, I try to take advantage of it. It certainly does not always hit. I love to just sit down and play guitar. I don't have much problem with that, but writing is where I have moments where I'm just not able to write. I've never been able to make myself sit down and write a song, but it's been more a matter of when I hear it.

Playing guitar, I love to sit down and play. I pretty much play every day.
MSJ: Another song from "The Muse Awakens" is "Shadowlights." I heard the song and thought "Ah! There's the token vocal track on the album."
Stan Whitaker: Well, the next album is going to have a few more vocals on it. When Happy the Man first started doing records, some 25 years ago, the vocal was certainly a token thing. Since then I've been singing a lot. In fact that's how I earn my livelihood now by singing in nightclubs, just me and my acoustic guitar. My fiance and I have an acoustic duo. She sings and has a very versatile voice. The two of us together have a pretty strong vocal thing happening. The whole band has come out and have heard and seen what I do now for my livelihood. Everybody was digging on the vocal part of it.

The next album we already have three or four vocal tunes written for it. Frank has a few epic pieces that he's written. I've never been much of a lyricist so that's one reason why I don't have a lot of vocal tunes on my own. Frank, on the other hand, can crank out lyrics like crazy.
MSJ: So Frank did the lyrics on "Wind Up Doll Day Wind." Who is that singing?
Stan Whitaker: That's me singing.
MSJ: And the first album had "On Time as a Helix of Precious Laughs."
Stan Whitaker: That and "Befrost (Upon the Rainbow)" were our first two vocals. "Befrost" was the first song I ever sang. That was a bit funny because we had Peter Gabriel looking at us as a backup band and that kind of lit a fire under Arista Records to get us signed. They flat-out said "look, one of you guys has to start singing and we had some hope that there could be some vocals so we could sign you guys right now." So we were literally looking around the table at each other: "You wanna sing?" "I don't wanna sing. You wanna sing." So I thought, "Well, if they're gonna sign us, I'll sing!" So that's how I started singing and "Befrost (Upon
the Rainbow)" was the very first.
MSJ: Your lyrics, especially on "On Time as a Helix," are very poignant.
Stan Whitaker: Frank can write some brilliant lyrics. His compositions, among all the writers in the band, have always been my favorite. They've always been a bit more challenging than the others.
MSJ: You know, the Dixie Dregs ran into the same issue - Arista Records telling them that they need some vocals on their tracks. On "Industry Standard" they did that, using Patrick Simmons and Alex Ligertwood for their vocalists. So you were the precursors to the Dixie Dregs!
Stan Whitaker: (laughs) I wasn't aware of that! I've met Steve Morse a couple times and I've always admired his playing. And...they should stay instrumental! Ha!
MSJ: Getting back to "Shadowlights," I'm always curious as to picking out time signatures. That's in seven, isn't it?
Stan Whitaker: "Shadowlights" is pretty much in seven, but it's one of those things that feels like 4/4.

Again, unfortunately it's the token vocal tune on the album. When we were putting together the material for the album we simply didn't have any other vocal tunes ready. After the record, that's when Frank started cranking out a bunch of stuff.
MSJ: So how far along would you say this new album is?
Stan Whitaker: Well, we haven't started recording any of it, but we pretty much have all the material chosen. Frank had four or five tunes that he submitted, and Dave has a couple. A couple of Frank's are rather long epic tunes. A lot of our songs are not that long compared to a lot of other proggers. On this next album we'll have a song that's about twenty-two minutes.
MSJ: I did an interview with Steve Hackett where he said that you can say what you have to say in ninety seconds.
Stan Whitaker: Well, we had "Service with a Smile" that was two-and-a-half minutes.
MSJ: And that was co-written by Greg Hawkes of the Cars?
Stan Whitaker: Yeah, Ron Riddle and he wrote that. They had some band up in Boston, and they both wrote that.
MSJ: Which seems to be ar far removed from the Cars "sound" as you can get.
Stan Whitaker: And definitely better! So, any other questions? A lot of the interviews we did in Germany dwelt on the older stuff and the (fakes german accent) "How did you get der name 'Happy der Man'?"
MSJ: Well, I checked the web site and it said that you were not even aware of the Genesis single. "Happy the Man" came from Nietzsche?
Stan Whitaker: Goethe. My brother got it from that and the Bible. There's something in Proverbs or Psalms: "Happy is the man who receiveth knowledge" or something like that. My older brother came up with that, and we heard it and thought "that's it!"
MSJ: One "standard" question that I like to ask is what are your influences, either in guitar playing or composition.
Stan Whitaker: Compositionally, I've always been a huge Beatles fan and always considered them, in the true nature of the word, a "progressive" band. Even though they started out real poppy and sing-songy, from "Revolver" on, or from "Rubber Soul" on, they became quite a progressive band. From album to album they grew, and that to me is what progessive really meant.

From a guitar player's standpoint, earliest influences were Hendrix, of course. Jimi had a big impact on me. Then in later years Allan Holdsworth - I was a big Holdsworth fan - he has the "alien" fingers that are not from this earth. When you watch him play it's just sick.
MSJ: (laughs) Hmm, maybe I shouldn't see him! Actually, anyone who Eddie Van Halen said influenced his playing should be checked out.
Stan Whitaker: I was amazed to see that in an interview that I read. "Now how cool is that?

He's into Holdsworth." Other than Holdsworth I've always liked David Torn, Steve Tibbets, Ralph Towner - I love Ralph Towner. I can appreciate Steve Vai and guys like that but I don't listen to them a lot. Phil Keaggy - he's got some brilliant guitar moments there. I like his voice, too. .
MSJ: His singing early on and today - his voice hasn't changed? It must be that good Christian living! (laughs) Maybe it'll work for Neal Morse!
Stan Whitaker: That remains to be seen! I've always liked Neal Morse, and I thought it was a shame when he left Spock's Beard.
 
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