Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Felt - The Psychedelic Secret Band

There are two bands called Felt. Both are cult artists. One was a jangle pop group from the 1980s who reached levels of critical fame but barely any popular recognition. The other band is a psychedelic band who formed 2 years after the summer of love and didn't gain any sort of fame for over 20 years.
One of the few things we know of this band is that it was made up of five musicians from Arab, Alabama. Mike Neel on drums, Stan Lee on guitar, Tommy Gilstrap on bass, Alan Darlymple on Keyboard and lead singer and guitarist Myke Jackson (Now Mychael John Thomas). 
Mychael John Thomas was enlisted to help uncover the secrets of this top-secret cult band.

Music-Drop Magazine: How did Felt form?

Mychael John Thomas: Sometime in April or May of 1970 Mike Neel came back from Florida (He had moved there a couple of years earlier). He came to me and said he wanted to start an all original music band, because that‘s what all the bands in Florida were doing. So we started writing songs. Mike went with Everyday Lyfe on a gig and we met this guy named Waddy Berry. We were telling him about our plans to start an original band. He told us he knew a bass player named Tommy Gilstrap and invited us to a free concert in Monte Sano park in Huntsville, AL the following week to meet him (Tommy) as he would be there.

So Mike and I went, hooked up with Waddy, met Tommy, and asked if he’d like to Jam. He said sure. We then asked the promoters if they could work us in for a jam. They said yes, and we took Tommy over to a picnic table to teach him a couple of songs we were working on. I think they were “Destination” and “World.” So we jammed…It was pretty bad, but people seem to enjoy it I guess because we were fast and loud…lol. So afterwards we asked Tommy to come rehearse with us the next week and start a band with us. He said yes. We asked him if he knew any other guitar players who could sing, and he said, “Yeah. Stan Lee, a friend of mine.” So Tommy brought Stan to the rehearsal and we began writing and rehearsing. Sometime later Mike met Allen walking down the street in Arab. He said it was odd because you didn’t see “long hairs” just walking down the street alone in those days…lol. So he brought him to rehearsal that night, and we had keys in the band. I was opposed at first, because I wanted Felt to be an all guitar band, but Allen brought so much to the sound I really liked it in the end. And Allen and I became good friends…

Can you remember any distinct memories from the early days of the band?

MJT: I may have shared his in another interview, but there was this one gig in the fall on ‘70. We were doing a free concert, they were mostly all free lol, at the same park where we met Tommy. It was kind of cold, and this major fog set down on top of Monte Sano Mountain (where the park was). The stage was a concrete amphitheater and the seats cascaded up a big hill. At 10 minutes till time for us to play there were only about 10 or 12 people in the bleachers. So we talked it over and decided to play anyway…good practice.

At the edge of the amphitheater section were woods, very thick with trees of course. So as we hit the first note of our set all these people started out of the woods and through the fog into the seats. It was surreal. By this time we were just about to go into the studio to record our album, so we had a really full set of good material. That was the best live performance of the band I can remember.

Did the band tour often?

MJT: No. We only did a few local gigs, then we recorded an album. We never really got a chance to support the album with a tour because of my arrest.

Did the band ever tour out of their local area?

MJT: We were only ever a local band. Our career ended really before it began.

Did you have much contact with any other "Garage Rock" bands at the time?

MJT: In Arab there were only 3 or 4 bands, and everybody kind of did their own thing. And they were all copy bands, mostly dance music; we were the first all original band in our town, Mike and me that is. In Huntsville there were a lot of bands and maybe 5 or 6 who were starting to venture into original music. There was a lot of talent in Huntsville, but the atmosphere was very competitive. We had a few friends here and there from other bands who would come to a Felt rehearsal now and then. And sometimes we would have an open jam at the end. Those were cool because all the ego came down, and we just played music. To me that’s what it was all about…Friendship and sharing music. It was the end of the ‘60s…We were still hippies.

Was there a big local music scene?

MJT: There were over 100 night clubs in Huntsville, but they were mostly dance clubs. And the club owners didn’t want original music they wanted copy stuff…And not too loud. So there wasn’t a big venue for loud, original rock bands then except in New York and L. A., or London, and we couldn’t afford to go to any of those…So, as I said, we were mostly a free hippy band who never really got started except for an album.

What was your biggest influence on your songwriting?

MJT: Mostly The Beatles, John and Paul. But they were heavily influenced by country music. I grew up in Nashville, TN. Where my dad was a studio musician and played at the Grand Ole Opry every weekend. So songwriting was ingrained I guess. And a lot of rock legends recorded and got started in the South. About the time we finished our album I heard the first YES & ELP albums. I really liked Greg Lake’s song crafting, but I also loved Jon Anderson’s poetry and disregard for form. The funny thing is FELT sounded like YES before we ever knew who they were. We would have done much better I think if we had been able to move to England. They were a lot more supportive of art and music it seemed to me. And then everybody was influenced by the radio; we studied what was on the Top 40 and why.

Did you have any extra songs from this time that weren't included on the album?

MJT: I used to have all the original demo tapes and a couple that almost made the album. But someone stole the box full when I was on the road in 1976. We recreated “Take You Down” for the reissue and “Psychedelic Memoirs.” And I added a bridge to a song called “Don’t Wanna Leave You” and recorded it on a solo album. The album was “Catharsis” I think. But other than that all the masters and demos are lost.

The album artwork of Felt (1971) 

You [Myke Jackson] got arrested for possession while the album was in post-production, correct?

MJT: Yes. Bummer…lol.

How did this affect your thoughts on the band and what you were doing?

MJT: Well I spent eight months incarcerated, so I had a lot of time to think. Mike, Tommy and Allen were actually “snuck in” by one of the employees of the institute where I was, and we jammed all afternoon at the employees house, which was on “campus”…what they called it

Why did felt break up after just one album?

MJT: The answer to this one is kind of a continuation of the previous question. In general I was very paranoid. I had just spent 8 months of my life in jail, so I wasn’t in a hurry to go back. When I got out all the guys in the band were still smoking pot, so it was a no brainer for me…I couldn’t be anywhere near that lifestyle anymore. We actually did get together and jam a time or two, but I changed a lot from the experience of jail time. We just couldn’t re-kindle the fire. And no one but me was really willing to give up the smoke…lol. I was 18 years old and scared.

How did a felt reunion come about after so long?

MJT: Well it was really due to ANATIZISI re-releasing the album. Nick contacted me several times about the project till I said okay. He asked me about bonus material, and the only thing I could think of was “Take You Down.” We had recorded that on the last session in 1970. Our producer thought it was great, but there wasn’t enough room on the album for it. Mike and I really wanted “World” on there, because it was the first song we wrote. So we put TYD in the can. In hind sight I wish we had axed “World” and put TYD on there…But ces’t la vie…lol.

Look At The Sun, The Album Starting Track

How was it to play with your fellow members after 40 years? 

MJT: We missed Allen, who died in an automobile accident in ‘72 or ‘73. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact date. But that was the reason for “Sounds Of Brotherhood” which was a tribute to our friend. Other than that touch of sadness the rest was just great! When we got together, Mike, Tommy, Stan and I, within an hour it was like no time had passed…We were all teenagers again. We really had no intentions of a 2nd album, we were just recording a couple of bonus tracks. But after that first session we all knew the magic was still there. So we began writing and had an album recorded in a couple of months. In fact, that set me on a creative binge that hasn’t seemed to stop yet…I remembered why I loved playing music.

How do you think Felt II compares to its predecessor?

MJT: It’s hard to compare the two in most ways. It was 40 years between. But we tried to think and write in a retro state of mind. Most of my friends asked me if it was old recordings re-released, which I took as a real compliment. Musically I think they are both good, and the writing was good on both, although it’s hard to unlearn 40 years of experience…lol. The funny thing for me was the original recordings were analog reel to reel, and the new stuff was digital. I purposely didn’t use many effects or processing, because I wanted to stay in the technology of the 70s as closely as possible…But in digital there is NO tape noise…lol. No matter how “rough” I tried to record it still came out clean…lol.

Obviously a 2nd album in 1970 wouldn’t have been as polished, but I think we continued that creative spirit that was Felt from the beginning. And the fact that we all so enjoyed seeing each other again came through in the music I think. And it was a much better life experience than the first one…For me anyway.

Did you ever even dream that Felt would be remembered so fondly over 40 years later?

MJT: No I didn’t. All of this took me by surprise. We had some great “missed” opportunities that could have made us an international super-group. But when I got busted that all went away. We had all moved on and forgotten those days, except for an occasional comment from our friends or family. It all really came back when Klemen first contacted me about an interview for “It’s Psychedelic Baby” magazine. He was the one who put me in touch with Nick, and the rest is history, as we say. But the response from those dedicated few fans of our music has been very humbling. It’s kind of made me feel “Yea. Maybe we did change the world…A little.”

Thanks so much for the opportunity to share with you. We all wish you well in your efforts.

Mychael John Thomas, on behalf of FELT.

Below are some useful links which you can use if you want to further research the band yourself.

Felt, 1971 - Album review at
A nice roundup of the band -
The interview referenced by Mychael John Thomas -
Another nice round-up on Felt -
Mychael's bandcamp -