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Spiral Starecase

With the unmistakable high-pitched vocals of Pat Upton soaring out of the speakers, "More Today Than Yesterday" by the Spiral Starecase scored with the public in a big way to become a true AM radio pop standard. Pat Upton, who wrote "More", chronicles the history of the group and all quotes are from him.

Pat Upton was born in Alabama in 1940. "I have sang all my life and grew up singing gospel music. I was introduced to the electric guitar when I was about 19. Duane Eddy and the Ventures were my favorites when I started playing. Shortly thereafter, I joined the Air Force and really learned to play guitar there. I spent four years in the service and was based in Sacramento, from 1962-66. My first band was a four piece instrumental group we put together for the Air Force talent contest. The group was called the Fydallions and that is where I started singing lead. After I got out of the service, we went on the road. We would play the Las Vegas circuit; five hour lounge jobs."

Along with Upton on vocals and guitar, the group that eventually became the Spiral Starecase consisted of Harvey Kaplan (keyboards), Vinny Parello (drums), Dick Lopes (sax) and Bobby Raymond (bass). Harvey, Vinny and Bobby joined in 1966. Harvey came from New York City. Vinny came from Utah. Dick Lopes was a founding member of the Fydallions and asked me to join. It was while working Vegas that I wrote 'More'.

"We played around Los Angeles a few times as the Fedalions. Our first recording contract was with Crusader Records, a small one man label operated by Fred Darian who had recently had a hit with 'The In Crowd' by Dobie Gray. We cut some stuff that Darian produced but it was never released. Later, we did a demo for Columbia, but again nothing happened. Back in those days you could make a tape on a reel to reel or you could ask to go into studio for a few hours and if the label thought you had anything they would work with you."

"We started working at a club in El Monte, California. It was there we met our manager, Michael Griesman. Columbia producer and A&R man Gary Usher [Beach Boys, Byrds] came to the club in El Monte and liked what he heard. He signed us to Columbia in 1967. Columbia told us they did not like our hair, dress or name, so we changed. Dick Lopes saw an old movie called 'The Spiral Starecase' and we used that name and revised the spelling a bit. Our first record 'Baby What I Mean'/'Makin' My Mind Up' was produced and arranged by Gary Usher." Both songs were not written by the band. Although 'Makin My Mind Up' is the catchiest pop song of the two, Columbia pushed 'Baby What I Mean' as the 'a' side, but nothing happened. "Usher left Columbia about that time and Sonny Knight replaced him as the producer. The last time I saw Gary was in Vegas and I had just written 'More'. I played it for him and it only had two verses. He said it needed another verse, so I wrote another."

After the initial record failed, "Columbia said it was having trouble getting material and suggested that someone in the band write. 'More' was the first song I wrote. Originally I wrote it with Bobby Goldsboro in mind. Columbia said just write songs." The Spiral Starecase recorded the song, produced by Sonny Knight and arranged by Al Capps. Upon release, it was a smash hit, reaching #12 on Billboard in 1969. "A DJ in Souix Falls, South Dakota broke the record. Sonny Knight had also been in radio and he helped promote the record."

To promote the record, the group toured and did TV. "Our first concert was with Three Dog Night. We also played with Sly and the Family Stone, the Beach Boys and Creedence. Clearwater Revival. We did our three songs and got off. We did American Bandstand a few times. In fact, the other consideration for the single was a song I wrote with Keith Colley called 'Broken Hearted Man', which was the flip side of 'More'. Columbia did not know which to release first so they put both on same 45 to see which one flew. After we played Bandstand, Dick Clark listened to the album and said 'Broken' was the second single." Although 'Broken' was never a single, it was covered by covered by numerous other artists in the late 1960s.

"We did not do an album until after 'More' took off. The album ['More Today Than Yesterday'] used session players except for the vocals and Harvey played some organ and Dick some sax." The second single from the album was a song called "No On For Me To Turn To", which was a sizable chart hit (BB #52 '69). "That song became the theme for a kid's TV show for abut 6 months to a year." The last Spiral Starecase single, "She's Ready", kept the name alive by also reaching the charts (BB #72, '70). Sadly, Columbia did not focus on the incredibly hit worthy Upton original on the flip side - "Judas To The Love We Knew" - which equals or surpasses 'More' in hooks and vocal performance.

"The band broke up in 1971. I was not getting paid by the record company or the publisher and we had problems with management, so I left the band. About 1971, I did one more recording for Columbia with Jerry Fuller [Gary Puckett producer] as Pat Upton which was released, but never did anything. Later, I Worked for awhile with Kaplan in East Los Angeles as the Spiral Staircase with a band that included Jay Graydon on guitar and Greg Mathieson [both later became big name session players]. I also played around Palm Springs for awhile with a band." The Palm Springs gig became a turning point for Upton.

"While Working in Palm Springs I met Greg McDonald and was introduced to Elvis' manager Colonel Parker. Greg was a gopher for the Colonel trying to learn the business. At that time singer Rick Nelson wanted the Colonel to manage him. The Colonel did not want to for whatever reason. The Colonel introduced Greg to Rick and Greg became Rick's manager. I met Rick at a club on Sunset. Rick asked me to sing back-up on an album he was recording for Capitol [Playing to Win]. Jack Nitzche produced the album. The album came out in January 1981. Rick asked me to tour to promote and I wound up playing for three and one- half to four years. Rick was a nice guy. I played rhythm guitar and sang background. That was the last thing I did. In 1983 I moved back to Alabama and started P.J.'s Alley nightclub." This is the club Rick Nelson played right before he died in the plane crash. Upton still does an occasional oldie's tour.

Besides Upton, the only member that really continued on with music was Harvey Kaplan. "He still works with a band as the Spiral Staircase, playing lounges." Interestingly, Kaplan's daughter, Brenda, recording as Brenda K. Starr, had a huge hit in 1988 with the song "I Still Believe" (BB #13, 1988), which resurfaced in the top 10 just this year when superstar Mariah Carey remade the tune.

Happily, Upton makes "more [money] today than yesterday" from the song. As a final word of advice, Upton expounds: "learn everything you can about the business and your instrument."

Copyright 1998, Ben McLane
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