Ed King: A Second Helping
Waking up to The Strawberry Alarm Clock
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Ed King is a walking rock and roll lesson. From his teenage success with The Strawberry Alarm Clock to his cult status as guitarist for everybody’s favorite Southern Rockers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, King has written and played on some major recordings.
This is our second helping of Ed. In light of Mitch Lopate’s interview with the Alarm Clock’s Paul Marshall we decided to revisit King and toss out a few questions about both the “Clock” and Skynyrd. As always, King was a pleasure to speak with. GRITZ wishes Ed continued success and we hope to see much more of him in the near future.
This issue, we are proud to feature an interview with an old bandmate of yours, Paul Marshall. How did you guys come to form Strawberry Alarm Clock? Who was in the band to begin with? Was Paul in at the beginning?
The “Clock” was really put together out of two bands. Mark Weitz, Lee Freeman, Gary Lovetro and myself were in Thee Sixpence - Randy Seol and George Bunnell were in another band -- can’t recall the name. Mark lived in Sherman Oaks, Randy and George in Woodland Hills and the rest of us were from Glendale. (California, of course.)
Randy mainly joined our band because our drummer, Gene Gunnels, had quit prior to the release of our hit single. Then Randy became appointed to sing “Incense & Peppermints” on stage because Lee’s voice wasn’t right for it. The guy who sang on the record, Greg Munford, was asked to join but declined. He would’ve been a real asset to the band. At that time he had a real good musical vision for his age (16, I believe). I’d probably be up for a Clock reunion if we could drag him out of the D.C. area where he now lives. From what he says, he’s real busy working with politicians! Funny... that’s where a lot of us hippies wound up. Getting “respectable.”
Paul Marshall didn’t join the band until around 1969-70, after Mark left. Then Gunnels came back. It was in this version of the Clock that I met Skynyrd on a tour in Florida in 1970.
Were you in the band when “Incense & Peppermints” hit big? Tell us about the beginnings of the band?
Mark Weitz and I wrote the music track to “Incense...” then our manager took it to a publisher in town who, in turn, sent it off to some lyricists in Denver. “Incense...” came back except our names weren’t on the sheet music as writers. What a PISSER.
Our first tour of the States was in November ‘67. I had just turned 18. What an experience. That winter we did a tour with the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield and the next spring we did it again, this time on the Beach Boys' own private plane. The tour started the day after Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis -- and we were scheduled to play there! There were reports of snipers at the airport so we went to Nashville to spend the night. That evening a gun salesman went from room to room with a flight case full of handguns. Many of us bought one. I never went on stage without a .38 Special in my back pocket. Quite an education.
How many albums did you record? Tell us about them.
I’d rather not go into the albums recorded at this time -- they were very forgettable as very little of the material was any good. Some of it, however, provided me with an opportunity to play what I consider to be my best playing ever. I think my lack of knowledge of the instrument was supplemented by my inspiration. My solo on “Tomorrow,” “Black Butter” and “They Saw the Fat One Coming” are my favorites. I was in learning mode and it was a lot of fun even though we suspected we were being exploited financially to the max.
What were some of the high points with SAC?
You must mean the time we flew from Jacksonville to Honolulu to do a gig for a Dick Clark show and then to Miami in the same day to rejoin the Beach Boys tour. I’d wondered what the hell that was that made me itch and scratch all the way there -- geez, it was torture. Found out I had my first case of crabs. Maybe I got some bad advice but I was told to shave the entire area and pick those little guys off with tweezers. So that’s how I spent my 8 hours in Honolulu. Definitely a high point.
What caused the band to break up and how did you end up in Skynyrd?
High intensity discord and bad management (and bad material) caused the breakup. In 1970 we did a three-month college tour in Florida. That’s when I met the guys in Skynyrd. That was a real fun tour, the most fun I’d had in years. We got ripped off by the promoters day after day. Totally screwed over. But we made the best of it. Haven’t had that much fun since. When the tour ended I told Ronnie to call me if he ever needed a guitar player or bass player. (More on this in our previous Ed interview)
We’ve covered a lot of your Lynyrd Skynyrd history in a previous interview but if you would, and in light of Leon’s death, could you share any thoughts about Leon? Any memories? What about the “throat cutting” in SPIN magazine? I heard from Leon that that was bs.
Again, I’m glad to hear Leon didn’t believe I’d do something like that. Leon was a kind-hearted soul. Never intrusive. Although he could be annoying at times, we all loved him. His presence helped make Skynyrd what it was. The greatest bass player I ever played with. You never knew he was there because his parts were so seamless. I’ve said it before -- I never, ever write a bass part without first asking myself “what would Leon play?”
What are some of your happiest memories of Skynyrd?
Hearing “Sweet Home Alabama” on the radio for the first time. That was a great feeling. Ronnie’d say, “That’s our ‘Ramblin Man.'” There were lots of great times on the road, especially before the band made it. Those times traveling in a beat up car towing a trailer -- the reward is the journey.
How’s your heart and health these days?
My heart has stabilized thanks to the transplant team at St. Thomas Hospital here in Nashville. I feel better than I’ve felt in years.