Hi you all! Today I have a guest: John “Chris” Christensen of Opus 1. Before I start posing my questions to him, I would like to tell you about Opus 1 in few words.
Opus 1 were a professional band who played in many venues, they were formed in 1965 and disbanded the following year. The band’s line up included Brian Decker on guitar, Doug Decker on bass, Pete Parker on organ, and John “Chris” Christensen on drums and all the band members also on vocals. The band’s only single “Back Seat’38 Dodge”(b/w “In My Mind”) was released in May 1966 on Mustang records. Now we will all hear about Opus 1 from John Chris Christensen himself.
Hi Chris! I would very much like to thank you for making this interview with me.
And thank you Duygu for your interest in my music!
My pleasure! Before I start asking about Opus 1, I would like to ask you an individual question. What made you start making music? Do you mind sharing?
I don’t mind sharing at all. I remember my parents taking me to see a parade in Long Beach, California when I was about 4 years old. When the marching band came down the street the sound of the drums really got to me; it was just incredible! Fat, thunderous, and powerful – I’d never heard anything like it, and from then on I wanted to play the drums. My father Jack Christensen had played gigs as a pianist in his younger years and would have encouraged me, but my parents divorced shortly after that. When I started my Freshman year at Saint Anthony Boys High School my dream finally came true. Thank God for Jack Plummer; he was the band Director, and he put those first drumsticks in my hands!
Your love for music started at a very young age, amazing. Now, let me ask about your band, Opus 1 which is not a common name for a band, how did you select it?
Every band on earth shares this experience in one way or another, and usually there’s a lot of humor to go with it. There are the really bad names that send all of the band members collapsing on the floor in laughing fits, like Familiar Pile, or Thunder Bucket. There was definitely some of that, but it really went pretty quick for us. We had just come from playing situations that we wanted to turn the page on and wanted a band name that reflected that. Brian suggested “Opus 1” and it was perfect! We knew of it’s use in classical music, and of course, there was the added bonus of it being a swingin’ signature tune for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. It’s too bad we didn’t get to mime the Dorsey tune instead of Jersey Bounce for our Perry Mason TV appearance, now that would have been a whole lot cooler!
Excellent, Chris! Would you also briefly tell us about the bands that were attached to Opus 1’s formation?
Well, we had all been in surf bands. Lloyd Terry and The Victors, The Surfriders, Frank and the Concepts, The Reveres – lots of groups like that, and sometimes subbing in each others bands. The Reveres would need a guitarist or a bassist, and Brian or Doug would fill in, or I’d go play drums with their groups.
Brian, Doug, and Pete had just come from The Togas where they had a lengthy stay as the house band at Pandora’s Box. Though the band was really good, there was a lot of friction between lead singer Chris Morgan and Brian, Doug, and Pete. The Togas recorded a single for Challenge Records of a Bob Dylan tune – Baby, I’m In The Mood For You, but that 45 didn’t get any traction, and they were looking for a way out.
I had come from a series of bands where guitarist/singer Bob Renfro and I were the leaders. The Intruders came first but had no real management. Then we formed The Town Criers, and that turned into Time Of Your Life. The last two groups were managed by Barry Campbell, the owner of Ionic Records. At some point Time of Your Life’s momentum just stalled, so I started looking for a new group. In a twist of fate I booked a gig and used the line-up that coalesced at that very gig into Opus 1, and man, the chemistry was immediate! Time of Your Life went on to record “Ode To A Bad Dream” without me, but I am on the flip side of that 45.
Thank you for sharing all these details with us! As much as I would like to hear about “Back Seat ’38 Dodge” I also would like to know how “In My Mind” came about. It has interesting and meaningful lyrics, not the sort of classic love song we are used to hearing.
Brian Decker was the primary songwriter in the group and he was starting to get a little more psychedelic with his imagery and word play. Here’s the lyric to the first section:
“Always laugh, you laugh think I’m a clown, who doesn’t care, stop and stare. Claim to see a frown, that isn’t there – chew the fat. Tell me where it’s it’s at, and leave it at that, put a feather in your hat, but you’re wrong. Count your numbers think you’re strong but you‘re wrong.”
The lyrics are wide-open to interpretation. I remember when I first heard the end of the first sequence; “chew the fat” I just cracked up – and then I said, “It’s perfect.” I’ve always loved the idea of throwing a musical or lyrical curve ball – that sort of “WTF?” moment. A lot of what’s cool about the lyrics to In My Mind is that the picture your mind paints depends on the individual listener, and I’ve always loved the rhythmic cadence of the lyrics. Opus 1 were definitely not doing ‘Boy meets Girl’ tunes.
The other members of the band had demoed In My Mind before we became Opus 1, and the drum part on the demo was this very straight back beat through the entire song. I felt that it lacked energy! I just listened to the 45 after not having heard it for a number of years and in analyzing my parts on the record I can see where the influences came from, although in ‘66 I just improvised it. I played the tambourine breaks from The Stones Satisfaction on the high hat with my right hand, the snare drum part from Little Richard’s Keep a Knockin’ with my left hand, and then mostly upbeats and accents with the kick. It was a bitch to play, but what a blast!
You sure have your style! As you know, “Back Seat ’38 Dodge” has subsequently been included on several compilation albums over the years. Opus 1 singles are not that easy to get as they are one of the most popular collector’s items these days. How do you see the current interest in the 1960s music scene?
I love it! Once the British Invasion happened there was this amazing avalanche of creativity on both sides of the Atlantic; it was so exciting! Every week there was something new on the radio that you’d never heard before, and each record was trying to top the last. As great as the top hits were, there was a lot of stuff just as great that people never got to hear. It really is gratifying that people like you dig down deep to find all that missing gold!
As to it’s effect on today’s music, I like the new bands that are influenced by the 60s sound but aren’t slavishly trying to copy it. The Out Key Hole and Os Haxixins come to mind right away! Those groups invoke the atmosphere of the 60s but have their own sound. There are many great bands out there (I very much like Stupidity — do you hear me Tommy?), but you have look to find them. In the case of The Out Key Hole and Os Haxixins they looked me up, so I can’t take credit for finding them, they found me! LOL – but that’s the cool thing about the internet, sharing your interests and making new friends.
This is amazing that you are up to date with new bands and make friends with them. They are so lucky to have known you! After Opus 1 did you continue making music? Do you know what happened to rest of the band members?
Doug Decker became a recording engineer, and was in charge of recording the music performances for The Johnny Cash Show. He has worked with a lot of legendary performers.
Brian Decker went into carpentry, and construction. He’s occasionally been known to put on a guitar and play, but these days it’s just for fun.
Pete Parker performed at The Hungry Tiger in Hollywood for a number of years. The Hungry Tiger was a very popular venue located on the Sunset Strip. A lot of movie and TV people liked to hang out there. Pete now edits and publishes a magazine called Karaoke Scene.
As to myself, I’ve never stopped performing since my first paid gig as a drummer in December of 1962. My releases have been sporadic, but I’ve always been composing and recording. I’ve scored documentaries and movies for mystery writer and film maker Max Allan Collins, and you can find my work on records by Laser Pace, Hot Food To Go! Christensen/Schultz, and the quirky novelty records by The Utensils and John W Christensen.
In the last few years I’ve started releasing solo and archival recordings, with the most recent single being an unreleased track from the Songs from the Xenozoic Age CD, The Grith (Orchestral Bootleg). It’s my particular brand of orchestral/rock film music. There’s a very cool video of it on YouTube accompanying Mark Schultz’s fabulous artwork – please check it out.
Coming soon! I’m putting the finishing touches on a solo album of new rock and roll music recorded here at Mad Labs Studio. I’m going to kick that one out into the world soon!
Thank you Duygu for this opportunity, and please tell your readers to look me up on Facebook, cdBaby and YouTube.
Thank you Chris for taking the time to make this interview with me. It was an excellent experience.
Lovely readers, hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did! Please check out the following pages for more information on John “Chris” Christensen and his work:
I also attach couple of youtube links for you to hear the excellent sound of Opus 1 and John “Chris” Christensen’s later work. Enjoy!
Back Seat ’38 Dodge by Opus 1
In My Mind by Opus 1
John “Chris” Christensen Modern Blues
The Grith (Orchestral Bootleg) by Christensen/Schultz
** Interview made by Duygu S. – 2014 **