"Inside The Outsiders"
The Wally Tax Interview. By
Unterberger, October 1997. Originally appeared on "Ugly Things" #16
Of all the great bands who sang in English as a second language in the 1960s,
the Outsiders were the coolest. It's a subjective judgement, bound to infuriate
partisans of the Lords, Tages, Q65, Los Mockers, Les Baroques, and others,
but no one could deny that these Amsterdam monsters covered a staggering
amount of ground between 1965-1969. Their three albums and dozen singles
also charted an explosive creative growth, on par with that of the Pretty
Things - the most readily comparable British group of the era.
When they first began recording, the Outsiders, like the Pretty Things, did
not so much play their songs as attack them. Their R&B/pop hybrids started
out at 75 miles per hour and ended with the speedometer in tatters. Bee-humming
fuzz guitars and galloping bass runs fought it out with drummer Buzz Busch's
insanely accelerating tempos, as leader, singer, and (with guitarist Ronnie
Splinter) songwriter Wally Tax both screamed furiously and purred in sullen,
hurt tones. "You Mistreat Me," "Sun's Going Down," "Lying All the Time,"
"Monkey On Your Back," "Touch" - all are classic mid-'60s singles. These
are positively restrained compared to the wyldest of their LP-only tracks-
"Won't You Listen" and "If You Don't Treat Me Right" are two of the most
berserk slices of Eurobeat ever recorded, executed like a 45 single played
at 78 RPM. Then there are the logic-defying live cuts from their debut album,
including the one-chord (!) vamp "Story 16" and "Afraid of the Dark," a gothic
dirge that suddenly breaks into proto-hardcore beat-punk.
The Outsiders, like the Pretty Things, would temper their punk ethos with
wistful, tender folk-rock with a raw edge on beautiful songs like "Summer
Is Here," "Teach Me To Forget You," and "Strange Things Are Happening." But
the group were no mere Pretties clones. Like many of the best Nederbiet groups,
they mixed R&B/rock with a distinctly continental European melodic
sensibility. Their odd time signatures and juxtapositions of raunch and delicate
folk-rock within the same song - "Touch" being perhaps the best example -
had few counterparts in the British or American scenes. Wally Tax was both
a tough punk and, at heart, a romantic, capable of both a hoarse yelp and
a tender whisper. It is the tension between these extremes that fuels the
Outsiders' approach, though even in the most lighthearted of their songs,
one can feel the clouds of doom lingering just over the horizon.
Most impressive of all, perhaps, was the fact that of the 50 or so songs
recorded by the Outsiders, every single track was an original composition.
Very few top groups from any country who recorded a comparable amount of
material in the 1960s can boast such a perfect record; I can only think of
the Velvet Underground and Buffalo Springfield myself.
It was little surprise to find the Outsiders moving into psychedelia in the
late '60s. The elements had been present in their use of imaginative touches
of recorder ("Monkey On My Back") and zither ("Summer Is Here") on earlier
singles. The amazing "I'm Only Trying To Prove To Myself That I'm Not Like
Everybody Else" (1967) had an instrumental bridge consisting mostly of electronic
squawks, Saturday morning cartoon swoops, and static that sounded like a
TV set caught between stations. Wally Tax had also recorded a solo album
in 1967 that found his romantic tendencies in full bloom.
Yet the Outsiders' parting shot, CQ (1968), would not be a run-of-the-mill
flowerpower effort, but one of the best punkadelic albums of all time. Themes
of space travel, dislocation, social alienation, and undercurrents of both
violence and meditative tranquility anchored an album that sacrificed nothing
in the way of raw rock power, despite the increasingly complex songs and
skilled execution. The Outsiders were at the top of their game, but the LP
was a flop relative to their previous Dutch hits. After Ronnie Splinter had
(for the third time) left the band, Wally Tax decided to make a break for
his own solo career, moving to the US and recording an early '70s album as
the head of Tax Free.
The Outsiders' dissolution was unnoticed in America, where none of their
records had ever been released. To this day, when you talk about the Outsiders,
most rock fans assume you mean the Cleveland pop band who made the Top Ten
in 1966 with the horn rock single "Time Won't Let Me." It wasn't until the
1980s that dedicated Eurobeat fans outside of the Continent began to discover
the genius of the band, via import reissues (which were themselves only
sporadically available here). Pseudonym in Holland has now reissued much
of the Outsiders' output on CD, including an intriguing double CD of previously
unreleased rehearsal tapes of the CQ sessions. Probably not more than
a few thousand American and British listeners are familiar with the group's
legacy-but the Outsiders' following, in the manner of all great cult artists,
just continues to grow and grow, the music losing none of its compelling
strangeness over the decades.
Like most of the great Eurobeat bands, the Outsiders have retained a mystique
purely by virtue of the scarcity of information available about the group
to the English-speaking world. Only two English interview with the group's
leader, Wally Tax, have previously appeared (one in an earlier issue of Ugly
Things, natch; the other in a more recent Ptolmaic Terrascope).
After months of nail-biting attempts to reach Tax at his Amsterdam home
(Pseudonym Records had warned me that he was apt to be uncontactable for
months on end), I was fortunate enough to speak to Wally for an hour and
a half in March of 1997. Tax was extremely friendly and forthcoming about
the history of the Outsiders, whose work he remains extremely proud of over
25 years since their split. In fact, interest in the Outsiders is at its
highest level since the '60s, with Tax's biography due for publication in
1998 (in Dutch only, unfortunately). And, unbelievably enough, an actual
reunion tour with four original members took place in October 1997.
(Richie Unterberger conducted this interview for his upcoming book on
60 of the most interesting cult rock legends of all time, published by Miller
Freeman books in early 1998.)
WT: My mother is a Russian gypsy, and my father and mother met each other
in a concentration camp during World War II. My father, because he was very
young and in the Resistance. His friends out of his Resistance group were
all like ten, maybe 12 years older than he was. They said about my father,
"Well, he didn't do anything, actually. He was just hanging out with us."
All the other guys got shot. My father got a heavier sentence than a regular
working camp, but they didn't send him to where they sent Jews to be gassed.
But because my mother was a gypsy, she was in the same kind of prison as
my father. They were slave laborers. [People there] died of starvation. If
they were obstinate or something, they might get shot or beaten to death.
But there were no gas chambers there.
So they survived and they could choose to go West or East. Of course my mother
only remembered poverty and malnutrition in Russia, and also being discriminated
against because of her gypsy blood. That's why they went to Amsterdam - my
father was born in Amsterdam, of course. They got married very quickly, because
otherwise they'd throw her out. They had to get married within three months.
But they wanted to get married anyway, but in a more romantic way. So in
'46 my brother was born, and I was born in '48.
UT: When did you form the Outsiders?
WT: When I was 11. It was called the Outsiders - I had the name when I was
11. I actually started performing when I was eight. But of course, I was
a child performer. But rock and roll got to me, and rhythm and blues, at
a very early age. Because my father, who's 73 now - he dug rhythm and blues
a lot. We were in the lucky circumstances. We had a seaman's hostel close
to where I lived, and a lot of American sailors stayed there when they were
in Amsterdam. And they brought R&B records for us, ordered them, like
Louis Jordan stuff, but also more tough blues stuff and we bought them off
'em, 'cause they weren't imported in Holland by shops. So we bought 'em that
UT: The Outsiders' early records sound even more extreme than what most
of the British R&B/rock bands of the mid-'60s were doing. What were your
biggest influences at the time the Outsiders started recording?
WT: Well, I must say I was tremendously into Robert Johnson, for instance.
But also the guy who wrote "Dust My Blues," Elmore James, I loved that a
lot. And Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Little Walter. But also you might have
heard that we dug Jacques Brel a lot. The European influences were there
too. You can hear that, I suppose. It's not quite like... the British were
very much into copying the rhythm and blues thing a lot. Like the Rolling
Stones, they started their recording career using American rhythm and blues
material. We started our recording career with our own stuff. Maybe you know
the recording I did when I was I think 15, or maybe just 16, with "Sun's
Going Down"? That's more or less like a Russian folk melody with a bluesy
I think it must have been '64, but then again I could be mistaken. My memory
doesn't serve me well when it comes to dates exactly. But as sure as hell
remember I wrote the song when I was about 14. Previous to the recording
on that CQ Sessions CD, we recorded in a very small - well, it wasn't
really actually a label, it was just 500 pressings of the thing. Same thing,
but it was like for private label, owned by a pub owner. He did it as a special
gesture to our fans, and also to make a bit of money. There were about 500
pressed of them. But I don't have the original any more, I'm sorry to say.
Almost nobody has it. And the ones who have 'em, they sell for about 1500
gilders or something like that. That must be something around $1,000.
UT: This was a different version than the one on the Op-Art
WT: Before we did it (the "You Mistreat Me"/"Sun's Going Down" single)
for the Op-Art label, we recorded the same songs for a private label owned
by this pub owner. Op Art was owned by a huge musical paper called Muziek
Express - Musical Express. And that - I think the first pressing was
5,000. Different a little (from the first version) - not too much, but a
little, yes. The arrangements were a little better on the Op-Art label. But
the other ones are very interesting, historically.
UT: Songs like "You Mistreat Me" sound influenced by the Pretty
WT: Indeed. Phil May and I were close friends at the time, even. We got into
a lot of the same stuff, yes. We listened to quite a lot of the same records.
But I also influenced Phil. It's not a one-way street. We knew each other.
UT: Did you know Phil from when the Pretties were touring in
WT: Indeed, we met in Holland. And later on, we met everywhere. Also I stayed
with him in the early days at his place in London. He had a small three-room
apartment somewhere in London, in a rather nice neighborhood. He made some
money, he lived well.
UT: After the Muziek Express label, you went to Relax.
WT: It was not very big, but it was owned by a French company called Basart.
They were a classical music company, and they were losing money. So they
signed on a couple of pop-rock groups. Actually our manager at the time,
he forced them into signing the Outsiders because they wanted one of his
other groups called Short 66. The musical director of that company didn't
want the Outsiders at all, but he wanted Short 66, who were like a close
harmony pop band, like the Hollies, sort of. We were much too rough and
unpolished for his taste. But in order to get them, he had to sign us as
well. And that's how we got that record contract. A piece of blackmail,
UT: So how were the Outsiders received in the Netherlands in the mid-'60s,
considering how hard your music and image were?
WT: Very well indeed. We had a tremendous following in Amsterdam and around
Amsterdam. Our lucky break was when the Rolling Stones did their second concert
in Holland in a place where they auctioned cattle; that's the type of hall
it actually was. We played right before the Rolling Stones. It was a very
lengthy program. At least ten groups were on the list, and we were right
before the Rolling Stones. And we were more successful - we had a lot more
success than the Rolling Stones. That broke us nationally. That was in '66,
with "Lying All the Time."
UT: On a lot of the early songs you recorded, the tempos are so fast it's
amazing. Was that intentional?
WT: Oh, definitely. We recorded rather fast, and of course there are mistakes
in it. But the drive - going faster and faster - yes, that was intentional.
UT: Was it faster than how you would play it onstage?
WT: Oh no, live we were really explosive. Even more so, definitely.
UT: A lot of the first record was recorded live.
WT: All of it one take! (laughs)
UT: That's why it sounds so spontaneous.
WT: It is, definitely.
UT: Were you happy with the way that came out?
WT: Actually, yeah, we were satisfied. It was rough, but it was truthful
and energetic. It was the way it was. And that's what we liked about it.
It wasn't phony. It was us.
UT: Soon after the first singles, you started to do some much more melodic,
WT: Yes, and I did a solo album (Love-In) with a symphony orchestra
in '67. But those idiots at Philips, which is Polygram nowadays, they added
bird noises in between tracks. I hated that title, too! Because I never felt
like that, you know? I never felt that attached to, let's say, commercial
hippiedom. That was not me. I am a romantic, and I love the orchestra, and
I loved recording those romantic songs. I dug that. But what they did to
it ... the cover was like, they had flowers in my hair without me knowing
it. They did that in a photo studio. I have all kinds of roses in my hair.
I never wore flowers in my hair at all. And some stupid poetry on the back
It was already in the stores and doing quite well before I was aware of that
fact. I felt suckered by them. I made a lot of money, of course, because
I wrote all the stuff, and I didn't have to share royalties. I made the album,
technically, out of love. But I wasn't very much into that commercialized
hippie thing at all. That wasn't me. But that's the way they marketed the
UT: How did the group evolve from the early raves to the folk-rock things
you did with the Outsiders?
WT: Funny thing is, we really dug people like Peter, Paul & Mary and
things like that. We liked them. And also the Byrds, and Love were an inspiration
to us. Especially Love, even more than the Byrds. How's Arthur Lee? I hear
all kinds of strange things. Is he in jail again?
UT: Yes, for either eight or 12 years, depending on what account you
WT: He performed in Amsterdam maybe half a year ago. Maybe a little longer
ago, but not so long ago, and he was in excellent shape. Had a nice band
with him, and he was doing fine. And like a couple of months later, I heard
he was in jail. He's an emotional kind of guy, and he has no tolerance for
alcohol. But I've seen him play in 1996. He needs his freedom. I've spoken
to the man several times, but only briefly. And he was quite an amicable,
a very nice person, a rather tender-hearted person. But he was rather emotional.
I'm truly sorry.
I always enjoyed folky type of stuff. Alan Lomax, he recorded a lot of things
in the field. My father and I had quite a collection of all kinds of stuff,
of ethnic American music he recorded. I was quite aware of a lot of music
from America at the time. And of course European music, and the kind of music
my mother loved.
UT: What were your favorite songs before the CQ album?
WT: Of the early ones, I like "I Love Her Still, I Always Will" a lot. "You
Mistreat Me" I quite like too. But then again, I liked everything we did,
because otherwise we just wouldn't play it or record it. Artistically, we
had a lot of freedom. Except sometimes they fucked around with the tape after
we were gone. Like this guy, our manager, who claimed to be a producer. He
was just a money-grabbing asshole. And he sometimes fucked around with the
tape as well. Not too much, but adding handclaps or stuff we didn't particularly
UT: Is that why, at the end of "I've Been Loving You So Long," the tape
suddenly speeds up?
WT: No, really, that's my fault (laughs). Actually in retrospect, I think
it's a rather stupid idea, but at the time, I liked it. I apologize - I don't
like it anymore.
UT: And for the other side of that single, "I'm Only Trying to Prove to Myself"
- those sound effects in the instrumental part were your idea?
WT: That was on purpose. We were experimenting a lot with crazy sounds,
UT: Was it difficult writing and singing in English, which wasn't your
WT: No, not really. Because the music we listened to was in English. And
we studied very hard. Because to me, I think, really, the lyrics of a song
are very important indeed. So I always wanted to understand the songs I liked,
even before rock and roll exploded all over the world. I wanted to know what
the songs were about, like Perry Como songs, or Nat King Cole songs, or the
R&B records my father had. I wanted to know what they were about. So
I taught myself English. Also to communicate with the American sailors we
had every day - in a natural way, we learned English. I learn a language
rather easily, so it was necessary to communicate with the guys. I also made
a lot of money showing the guys around Amsterdam to good places to get laid
and stuff like that. They paid me a dollar or things like that when I got
them to a clean, good whore. When I was about like ten up to 12 years old,
I did stuff like that to make a buck. So no, it came quite naturally, the
UT: How would you assess the second album, Songbook?
WT: The Outsiders Songbook was a gesture to the fans who were poor,
and couldn't afford... because it was a collection of the singles.
UT: Yeah, although there were a few songs not on singles.
WT: I think we added one or two songs. But most of 'em were just singles,
and the album was very cheap - seven gilders and 95 cents. Just one single
was six gilders and 25 cents. All the singles we did turned gold eventually.
Actually it was a gesture for the fans, to give them a real cheap album with
all the great hits.
UT: How was it like writing with Ronnie Splinter?
WT: The way we worked was, usually I had the lyrics more or less finished,
and a rough - let's say, I'd have most of the chords and a rough vocal. That's
where Ronnie came in. He had more technical musical knowledge than I had.
So from my rough idea, we started to really polish it. But in essence, the
total idea was mine. But together with Ronnie, I truly developed it into
a real finished song. Although he never touched any of the lyrics, and I
had the main chords already.
UT: I wanted to ask about one of my favorite songs, "Summer Is
WT: "Summer Is Here," yeah, with all kinds of different instruments. I played
balalaika on it, and Buzz, the drummer, played an instrument that wasn't
really a zither. This one wasn't like the classical one. This one was with
knobs, so you could just push in a knob and have a chord. So he didn't really
have to learn how to play the zither, and could still, play chords. Only
the bass was electric. Acoustic guitars, of course, 12-string and
UT: Would you say that's an example of the European folk influence you
WT: Yeah, definitely. It's rather European kind of melody, don't you think?
And also the instrumentation was a giant step away from rock and roll, as
UT: Did the Outsiders have any success outside of Holland in the
WT: We never really broke in any country. In France, we only had fans in
Paris - where else. Same thing in Italy - we only had fans in Rome. Because
all the other places, like Milano or stuff like that, they didn't like us
there, because they were way behind, really. [The capitals] were more
progressive. We played in Germany, but only where they could get Dutch
UT: You never had any records released in the US.
WT: Not officially, no. But what happened was, some record stores imported
directly from the Netherlands. But there were no official releases.
UT: What qualities did the other members of the band bring to the
WT: The main man was, of course, Ron Splinter, who was a tremendous help
in writing the songs. The arrangements were more or less like most rock and
roll arrangements, like trying several ways of playing the song until Ron
and I had the other guys play what we had in mind, really. We sort of dictated
what to do. But they were not always able to do what we hael in mind. So
they were a lot of compromises, but always nice compromises. Sometimes the
drummer had an idea, like "Can I try this?" If somebody wanted to try something,
we had them try it, and usually it didn't work. But we always gave them a
chance to try it. I think most pop groups and rock groups work that way.
Usually there were two guys, or one guy, who wrote songs, and then they got
together to rehearse it and arrange it.
UT: The drumming on some of those records is really amazing.
WT: Yes. Buzz had a limited ability, but extraordinary ability as well. He's
an original. But he didn't invent the tempo shifts and stuff. They were actually
written by Ron and me. But he attituded them quite well. He has extraordinary
style of his own, yes. Like another guy, Viv Prince, the original drummer
of the Pretty Things. He's also a nice drummer, and also very much his own
man. And so is Buzz, as well. And Appie Rammers, he has his own thing too.
Rather strange conception of harmony - still has. Funny thing is, actually
after two or three rehearsals (for the then upcoming Outsiders reunion
tour), we sounded quite the same as the original Outsiders did. A little
better, but not better in the sense that it's less rough. Because it is.
It's still powerful, even more so.
UT: How did the CQ album evolve?
WT: Most groups all over the world were into, let's say, making concept albums.
We got the same type of fever to really compose and create an album that
was not only a collection of songs, but with sort of a coherence to it, so
the album was a whole thing. Like Sgt Pepper, also a concept album
in a sense. The same thing inspired us. The Pretties also had SF Sorrow.
Around about the same time, everybody got the idea to do that, to go beyond
the concept of a collection of singles, to have an album that had a certain
coherence in the songs. I think we quite succeeded in doing that in
The credits on the CQ album are totally weird. Because I wrote all
the lyrics, and let's say, of every song, at least 50 percent of the melody.
And there's all kinds of names of the group, like at random, thrown under
the songs. But on the next pressings, the credits will be right.
UT: It's more psychedelic than the group's previous work, but it's
harder-edged than a lot of psychedelic music of the time.
WT: Yes, that's true enough. It was high, but it wasn't like a dolphin's
kind of high, it was pretty rough. But it was psychedelic, alright,
UT: The lyrics were a lot darker than a lot of the flower-power of that
WT: Yeah, because we were never... at least, I was never into flower-power
at all whatsoever. Of course, I am pro-peace, I was anti-war, and I still
am, but I didn't quite go for that whole trip -- that whole concept of love
and peace and what's your sign and stuff, instead of asking somebody's name.
In the United States, for instance, they'd first ask what your sign was instead
of "What's your name" (chuckles ironically). It happened.
We recorded Tax Free in Jimi Hendrix's studio, Electric Ladyland.
And Jimi had just died, it was a very tragic atmosphere there. Also at that
time, a lot of people were sort of "truly connected" to Jimi, like they were
in contact with Jimi, although he was dead, and all that crap. It irritated
me a lot at the time, and still does, when they create that shit. I mean,
I knew Jimi, and I know he didn't commit suicide and stuff like that. It
was a goddamn accident, or somebody murdered him, or he sure as hell wasn't
planning on dying. I know as much.
Actually, I played with Jimi shortly before he died in Electric Ladyland.
This creep, what's his name, Alan Douglas? He must have... Tim Hardin, Jimi
and I, we played some acoustic stuff and sang together.
UT: This must have been right around the time the studio opened, in
WT: Yes, it wasn't quite finished yet. So I already had decided to record
Tax Free there, before it was actually in operation. And Jimi, he
loved that place. He was working day and night. It was his dream come true
to have his own planet, actually, that studio.
UT: Were there new influences from the late '60s at work on CQ, such as
WT: I don't think.... There were of course a multitude of influences. But
I wouldn't say any one in particular, no. I don't hear it myself. Occasionally
I hear things that remind me of... well, not too much actually.
UT: It there was any kind of lyrical concept to CQ, what was it?
WT: Let's say a large part of it autobiographical, about me. Most of my lyrics
are, of course, romanticized. But still, they are about me. But it was also
a fairy tale. It was also about space travel, [which] was a lot on my mind.
CQ is also a radio term, like "seek you," trying to make contact with
UT: You once said the concept was to change the universe.
WT: Something like that. But this was irony. I was very much interested in
space travel. Actually, I bought a certificate - that isn't phony, by the
way - NASA indeed sold them for tourist flights to the moon. You could enter
the list by donating I think $8,000. And I'm on the list, I have the certificate.
Nothing happened, of course, there's still no tourist flights going to the
moon, and probably not within my lifetime. But some people offered me a lot
of money to sell it. But I'll just keep it. I'm already 49, so maybe my health
isn't good enough or something. It's quite possible that I'm not strong enough
to do that. I mean, I've been a junkie and an alcoholic for some quite time.
I'm not any more, but I've been there. I survived that, but of course it
weakened me. Like most people, I went that stupid route.
UT: How was the CQ album received in Holland, since it was a shift in
direction for the group?
WT: Not too well. At least, not what we were used to. It sold maybe instead
of 50,000, maybe 12,000. A lot of people - they weren't up to it yet. We
were ahead of our time, definitely. And we had all kinds of trouble with
our manager, who was robbing us blind. We became aware of that, so we had
major problems. And Splinter left the group for the third time, and that
did it for me. That was the end of it. Tim Hardin had been quite an inspiration
to me, and Richie Havens, and I wanted to get into acoustic rock.
UT: You did one last single, "Do You Feel Allright." That's an interesting
song, 'cause the lyrics are so violent.
WT: It's not about my father, but the song is inspired by a friend of mine
or somebody I knew, and his father. His father was very rich, and the kid
really used violence to obtain money off him. That's what it's about
UT: So the Outsiders broke up because of Ronnie leaving, management problems,
and your interest in acoustic music...
WT: And also, I didn't want to... because we had had so many hits, we could
fill our whole program just playing the hits, like Fats Domino. He plays
the same fucking songs for 35 years now. And I didn't feel like doing that.
I wanted to progress. I wanted to play acoustic, and it worked out nicely.
We [Tax Free] didn't sell too bad in America. I don't know exactly how many
copies, but not bad. But we broke up because of... well, you should never
have two leaders in one band. Jody Purpora, the other singer in the group,
was also trying to be a leader, and it was my group. So I said, OK, go ahead
without me, I'm out of here. So they tried to go on, but they failed.
UT: What do you think of the Outsiders CD reissues?
WT: I think it was necessary because it wasn't obtainable at all at a certain
time. But right now I'm suing those companies. I want my rights back, because
I was under 21 when all those contracts signed. Not by me, of course, because
at the time you had to be 21 to be an adult I haven't seen any of those
contracts, even. So I don't even know how much money the Outsiders made on
UT: Is this Pseudonym Records involved in this dispute over the rights
to the recordings?
WT: No no, they just obtained permission to reissue them for a while. But
[CQ is] still owned by Polydor, and all the other ones are owned by
UT: The CQ Sessions was a very interesting record, because you get to
hear the songs developing.
WT: They were rehearsal tapes. Hans Van Vuuren (of Pseudonym Records)
asked permission to issue those rehearsal tapes, and I said, "Yeah, why not?"
because when you're really into the Outsiders, it must be nice to have those
things. So I gave him permission to do that.
UT: Was it interesting for you to hear those tapes after all these
WT: I haven't even listened to them, actually. Not once. I never listen to
myself. Only when I'm working at it. That's when I listen to it.
UT: Are you surprised by all the interest in the Outsiders from fans in
the US, where the music was never even released?
WT: At first I was, but now I'm kind of used to it, because it's been going
on for quite a while. I mean, when Kurt Cobain was in Amsterdam - that must
have been five years ago - he was desperately looking for me, and couldn't
find me. But that must have been because he was so crazed. Because if he
would have like gone to Paradiso and asked them for my phone number - well,
you could find me. He must have been able to find me. Those Seattle
cats, those grunge [guys], they seemed to have done a service on my birthday,
which is Valentine's Day. Soundgarden - those cats. And of course, Cobain
was really an Outsiders fan. I didn't know that, somebody told me later on,
when he was already dead.
UT: When was the first you heard that there were American fans of
WT: Actually, about ten years ago, Jeff from the Lyres, he was the first
guy who got in touch with me. I heard about American groups being interested
in what we did. Then gradually I realized it was bigger than I thought it
was. Right now, I think it's... well, that's why I'm also trying to - and
I'm quite sure I'll be able to - get the rights back on the Outsiders material,
and make American deals, so the records will be easily obtainable. Because
they're still to hard to get. You still have to find specialized shops to
buy Outsiders CDs. I want the stuff to be... not quite easily obtainable,
still have a cult status a bit. But it must be more easily obtainable than
it is right now.
UT: Whenever I talk about the Outsiders here, usually people say, "Oh,
the band that did 'Time Won't Let Me'?" Which is ironic, considering how
dissimilar the American Outsiders were to you.
WT: They don't have anything to do with what we are doing. There's also
a group from the UK who call themselves the Outsiders. But I managed to...
they still use the name the Outsiders, but with huge lettering behind it,
UK, so people know the difference. But I'm going to get it prohibited by
law for them to use it, because I've owned the name since I was 11 years
old. And I can prove it. And I don't want other people to use the name, I
mean, it's my name.
UT: What do you think made the Outsiders music unique, not just within
Holland, but in relation to the British and American groups of the
WT: I think there's still a very Continental European touch to the thing.
I mean, a song like "Touch," with that romantic interlude, is a rather European
concept I haven't found in American groups. And also the way we played the
blues is not really an American way to play the blues, I think. It is rather,
of course, deeply influenced by American R&B. That's I think mainly due
to the knowledge I already had of American R&B through my father. I could
obtain American rhythm and blues more easy than lots of people who lived
in London. The Dutch always spoke their language, because it's a small country,
but it's always been like doing business all over the world. So most people
over here do speak English.
But it still also has really a Continental flavor to it, I think, the way
we played. It's a different approach, a different mentality. But it's always
hard to explain. I think like Mick Jagger, for instance, in the old days,
tried to sound like a black R&B singer. I never tried to sound like anybody
else but me. And also I think lots of the British groups, especially when
they were heavily into R&B, were really imitating American groups, or
American artists, rather. Because blues artists and R&B artists were
usually soloists with a band behind them. For instance, Keith Richard is
somebody who started out trying to be Chuck Berry. But Ron Splinter never
tried to be anybody else but Ron Splinter.
UT: Do you see the influence of the Outsiders on groups of the '80s and
WT: Yes, later on it started to influence a lot of groups. For instance,
a group from Oakland, the Loved Ones, I did a guest appearance with them
in Amsterdam at Paradiso. It was like an R&B night, and, because they
recorded some of my material, they begged me to come over and do a couple
of songs with them. When the Lyres visit, and several other American groups,
Italian groups, and groups from Germany who do Outsiders stuff, they invite
me over to sing a couple of songs with them. When I like the group, why not?
I enjoy doing it. It's nice to be recognized, that's always nice. When people
honor what you did, or what you do, it's always a good feeling. I certainly
am proud of the fact that it's so long ago, [but the Outsiders' music is]
still standing. It's still worthwhile.
The funny thing is, it happens to my later material as well. For instance,
a Dutch group called Champagne, I wrote most of their hits, and they were
tremendous in Asia, where they sold two million albums in Japan, and stuff
like that. My wife at the time suffered from cancer. She's dead already for
12 years now. But I didn't want to leave home. So I didn't perform all that
much. But I still had a reasonable income from writing songs for lots of
people. It was a good way to make a living, because I couldn't leave home.
We traveled all over the world to find a cure, and eventually she still
UT: When punk music started, did you see similarities between some of
what those groups were doing and some of the Outsiders' records?
WT: Yes, but I think a lot of the punk records were phony. Because that guy
Malcolm McLaren, I don't think he was honest about it. The Sex Pistols and
stuff like that, I think they didn't try to play. They had this "fuck
you" attitude, and I guess they were not really trying to make music, most
of them. Of course, somebody like Chrissie Hynde, she was trying to make
beautiful music, or good music, and was labeled punk, to my great surprise.
I don't think she's got anything to do with it. But the Sex Pistols, I think
it was a joke. The Stranglers and stuff like that, I appreciated it a lot
more. But they didn't label themselves punk, did they? Some of them obviously
were phony, I think. I like the Clash, and the Ramones at the time, I liked.
Some of the punk I liked, but the Sex Pistols were really crap, I think.
I was on the same live television show, and they spit at the audiences and
stuff like that. I don't appreciate that. I think a little bit of dignity
comes a long way.
UT: How did you end up in America when you put together Tax Free?
WT: Funny thing is, I used the name Tax Free, but never played live in America.
I did several programs as a guest with Tim Hardin, for instance, and with
UT: That was you as a soloist?
WT: As a soloist. I didn't do much with Richie, actually. Richie was a friend
of mine, but I didn't do all that much. But Tim and I were closer. I also
lived for a while on his estate. I tried desperately to get ahead in America,
but it took me too long. My resources, moneywise, went, so I couldn't stay.
It's a pity.
UT: Did you know Tim before you went to America?
WT: Yes. I went to the United States for the first time in '68 to visit people
I liked. For instance, I tremendously liked Eric Andersen. I loved Tim Hardin's
music, which is still an inspiration to me. And I also liked Richie Havens
a lot. Phil Ochs, I liked Phil a lot, too. By that time, Eric Clapton was
living in New York, and I occasionally visited him. We also did some rambling
recording. I don't know if somebody wiped the tape or somebody still has
it. But we were quite drunk. We drank, Eric and I, that's for sure, at the
time. And Eric was also into other kinds of things. Now he lives a very healthy
life, I understand. I haven't seen him for quite a while. I've seen him onstage,
but I don't think he remembers me or anything. Or maybe he just doesn't want
those memories, because he wasn't a very happy man for a long time. And then
of course this tragedy with his son. He's a changed man. I don't think he
recognized me the last time I saw him, and I didn't push it. I respect the
guy's grief too much to bother him.
UT: Do you remember how John Cale became involved with the album?
WT: John Cale played viola on it. There was a funny interview with him in
an Amsterdam newspaper. He said he played piano on the album, but his memory
failed him. But it doesn't matter. He's a nice guy, I like him. But he did
an awful lot of session work, I think, at the time, right after the group
broke up, Velvet Underground. Lou Reed was successful immediately after the
breakup of the Velvet Underground, but John Cale wasn't. It took him a long
time to get where he is now. At least in Holland, he's able to fill up a
hall that seats 6,000 persons. I don't know how it would be in the United
States, if he's able to do that there, but over here he can manage to do
UT: What were your mid-'70s albums like in comparison to your earlier
WT: I'd call them wall of sound principle. At times I used 80 or more musicians.
It was lots of violins, but always based upon a hard rock group, like loads
of guitars and violins, horns, and sometimes soprano singers. Lots of backup
vocals. Quite mad. So I had a tremendous problem with that. I maybe did 40
live shows that big. It was too costly to do it live. I wanted to do it live
exactly the way I did it on record, and I couldn't afford it. I lost a lot
of money on those live performances. Which is a pity, because they were great
Then all of a sudden I stopped performing. I wrote for a lot of people, and
successfully at times. Also I produced a lot of people here in Holland. I
made Springtime in Amsterdam, that's an album I did in 1990. Only
a couple of thousand sold over there [in the US]. That was a very nice band
-- 11-piece band I used for live performances. There were two trumpets, one
saxophone, one violin player who played viola, and regular violin, piano
player, two guitar players, a bass player who played double bass and bass
guitar, and fretless bass guitar, and drums, and three backup chicks. We
did maybe 60 gigs with them. It was also too expensive, a really huge payroll,
also five technicians, a lot of money.
UT: That's your most recent album?
WT: I've got one finished now, and ready for release. But first, I'll do
the Outsiders reunion project, and then my next solo thing will be on the
market. But it's already finished, although I have to do a couple of
UT: And you're doing an autobiography now, to be published on your 50th
birthday, though it's only going to be published in Dutch.
WT: We could sell it out three times over, at least. But I'm quite content
with doing it that way, and this is the only time I'm gonna do it over here.
Maybe if there's some interest in the United States, we'll do it over there
one time as well, and that's it. Because they've been nagging me for 29 years.
Finally I said yes, for only one time.
We are going to tour [later this year] - the original Outsiders. Because
for 29 years, people have been asking me to do so. All four original members
are still alive. They've been rehearsing for like six months now. October,
November, and December of this year, we'll play every weekend. There'll be
a video recording of it, there'll be a double CD of the live performance,
and hopefully it'll be in tne cinemas. It'll be a television program, that's