Mark Boon is best known for his work with Diesel in the late 70s. Diesel had a US top 30 hit and a Canadian no 1 hit with Sausalito Summernight, a classic US car song, all done by a Dutch band, hmm.... Anyway, we'll concentrate on Mark's earlier career here, as he was guitarist with Smyle during 1972-1974 and with The Hammer around 1975. Smyle did four cool glammy powerpop 45s and The Hammer made one obscure glammy corker, as well as a Byrds-like beauty. That makes six memorable 45s in total.
"I was born in Indonesia, but my family moved to Amsterdam when I was young. When I was 11, we moved to LA, but later returned to The Hague. It was 1972, I was just released from military service, when I read an ad in a local newspaper by a band looking for a guitarist. I remember going to their house and standing at the front door, hearing all this racket coming from behind the closed curtains and thinking "I'm out of here!", when all of a sudden I heard that voice and I couldn't believe it: It was John Lennon singing! So I rang the doorbell and was met by two brothers, Paul and Peter van der Vossen, who played drums and bass, both students and diplomat's sons. The singer was called Bas Muijs, and not only did he sound like John Lennon, he also looked like George Harrison! Apparently these guys had sent demo tapes to all kinds of record companies, including Polydor, but were rejected by all of them.
Anyway, that's where I stepped in. I did a bit of arranging, adding a lick here and some harmonies there, and then called on a friend who owned a tape recorder, so we could make a new demo. Another friend of mine was a cab driver and one of his clients was Jaap Eggermont, ex-Golden Earring drummer-gone-producer. That's how we got hooked up with Jaap. When he heard the demo, his reaction was the same as mine, he just couldn't believe that voice! He knew he was holding the winning lottery ticket there and then. Jaap was still on good terms with Earring guitarist/composer George Kooymans and asked him to write us a song, which became It's Gonna Be Alright. I remember being in the rehearsal room with George on the phone, explaining the chords to me: "Now put your index finger there, and your little finger there..." Like me, George is totally self-educated you know, couldn't read notes to save his life.
As the actual day of recording was drawing near, we figured we'd better hire someone to take care of business. As it happens, the guy with the tape recorder also knew a manager, Henk van Leeuwen, who immediately got down to business, bought us grey designer suits and gave us a name, Smile. As a nod to the Byrds, I proposed we change the i to a y and asked my brother Rogier to draw us a logo. Six months later we had our first Top 10-hit in Holland with It's Gonna Be Alright. On the Polydor label, ha ha!
There was also considerable interest for that 45 from abroad, even from America. Mike Curb, the Osmonds manager and producer, had heard us while in Holland and wanted to sign us up. Unfortunately, Red Bullet-boss Willem van Kooten, our publisher, insisted Smyle could only be signed as part of a package deal including other Dutch groups. As a result, the deal fell through, which is a real shame since everyone agreed we were a certified hit! Sometimes greed just numbs the brain.
By that time, we had also recorded She Means A Lot To Me, which became the B-side of It's Gonna Be Alright. In fact, it was one of the songs the boys played when I first heard them. Originally a piano song, I re-arranged it for guitar, adding a riff I sort of borrowed from George Harrison's Wah Wah and a descending run in the chorus which is sort of reminiscent of Hey Bulldog by the Beatles. I still like that song, although I feel the lyrics could've been worked out more.
It's Gonna Be Alright came out in a plain white sleeve with just our logo on it. That was done on purpose, as Polydor wanted to keep things mysterious, hoping people would suspect it was a Beatles bootleg. That was the sentiment back then you know, people desperately hoping the Beatles would reform and bands like Klaatu cashing in on it.
Here's a good story: At that point early in our career our manager got angry letters and phonecalls from the UK, urging us to change our name because there was another Smile active in the UK. We didn't budge an inch, so eventually that UK band changed their name to....Queen! It's true, I swear!
We also did some TV-shows back then and I remember sharing a dressing room with early ABBA, or rather Agnetha, Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid as they were known back then. We got along fine with them, and their guitarist Björn, having lost his own guitar at Amsterdam Airport, borrowed my Les Paul to mime their song Ring, Ring. He gratefully returned it to me, but when I got home, I found he'd given it a serious case of buckle rash, dents and scratches caused by that big diamond-studded belt of his...
Bas had written some more nice tunes, and The Tandem / I'm So Heavy became our second 45 and a hit too. At that point we had a new rhythm section: Cees Meerman - later with Herman Brood as Ani Meerman - on drums and Ton van der Meer on bass (*This is a different Ton van der Meer as the artist who recorded under the same name in the late 70s / early 80s). If you listen carefully, you'll hear that the chords and melody of The Tandem were remotely based on Elvis' Return to Sender.
In my honest opinion, I felt that by then, Bas was running out of decent hit material. We recorded a 3rd and a 4th single (*Dream Of Me / Have I Ever Let You Down with orchestration by Harry van Hoof, and Crazy Lazy Little Miss Daisy / There's No Reason To Cry, where Jaap Eggermont used a huge and very primitive, monophone Moog-synthesizer) but I didn't feel comfortable with most of those songs anymore, and since no one seemed to appreciate the idea of me contributing to the songwriting, I decided to quit the band and move on.
Smyle found themselves a new guitarist, a guy called Rob Vunderink who had previously played with the hardrock band Cobra. I offered to teach him all my guitar parts, so Smyle could get on with things. Unfortunately for them, Rob and I hit it off so well both personally and musically, that we chose to start a new band together. We called it The Hammer and decided it would be slightly more, well, glamrock than Smyle!
Tailor-made blue-grey suits Utrecht, in front of Plompetorengracht 9
That turned out to be the end of Smyle, I'm talking 1974 here. With two 45s failing to make the charts and Jaap Eggermont enjoying success with other, newer bands like Greenfeeld & Cook and Catapult, I guess no one thought it was worth the trouble. A few years after Smyle folded, Ton van der Meer passed away after suffering a heart attack. That was really sad, he was a great guy and a fine bass-player and died way too young. We also had another drummer in those late Smyle days, a guy called Art Bausch who had previously played with Blue Planet.
I have to say me and Bas were both Beatles fanatics, and I guess we still are. In hindsight, I think we could have reached much more as a band, but you know, Bas always stuck to that early Beatles vibe while I preferred to explore new avenues. The guy had a golden voice with endless possibilities. Had we allowed ourselves to write really good songs together, we could have developed into a more mature and original band. But that never happened, I regret to say. On the other hand, the subsequent collaboration with Rob Vunderink eventually spawned a hit like Sausalito Summernight, which wasn't too shabby either...
Anyway, about six years later on, Jaap Eggermont had this brilliant idea (*well...commercially speaking) of doing that Stars on 45 project, you know those medleys of old songs on a disco beat. He wanted to do a Beatles-medley, I'm sure he knew about that American band Café Creme who did the same thing a couple of years before, and sort of perfected that. It was Jaap's obvious choise to invite Bas to do the John Lennon parts. The story about the money? Well, rumour has it Bas was offered the choice of being paid a certain amount of money at once, or a percentage per sold copy. Like all the musicians involved in that project, he opted for the former but would later come to regret it when Stars on 45 sold millions of copies worldwide! To say that was rather unfair would be an understatement, especially to Bas, without whom "Stars" would never have been as huge as it was.
Yeah, people can say what they want about Jaap Eggermont, but he had this tremendous talent for capturing exactly the right sound and atmosphere for a certain song, he's very good at that. When Jaap hit the jackpot with Stars on 45, he bought the Soundpush Studios in Blaricum so he could record freely whenever he wanted to. I was recording there with Diesel at the time and heard that he paid for that studio in cash! Jaap has since recorded loads of commercials there, like that famous one for Heineken, stuff like that... I haven't seen him for a while.
With The Hammer we signed a contract with EMI. There was a considerable Kayak-connection there as we shared the label, the producer (Gerrit Jan Leenders), the sound-engineer (Pierre Chateau) and the manager (Frits Hirschland) with them! We recorded Hitchcock's Lullaby, which was written by me. Producer Gert Jan Leenders didn't really do much besides standing in the back of the studio smoking his pipe! To promote us, our manager Frits Hirschland - who was always into promotional stunts - had this idea of keeping us mysterious. So in fact we were now up the same creek as we were in the early days of Smyle! Frits even put up ridiculously expensive full-page ads in four consecutive editions of leading music mag Oor.
The Hammer, 1974
Ads no one understood, aroused no interest whatsoever and failed to impress anyone. In fact, they were so cryptic that 35 years on, people are still trying to figure out what the hell they were about, let alone what band they were suppose to advertise. Some manager! (#, see below).
I'm not sure who were first, us or Kiss, but it was Frits Hirschland who talked us into those black and white paintjobs and black leotards, with the exception of the good-looking drummer who got to wear a white tux. Hitchcock's Lullaby flopped, but at the same time we got great exposure on a TV-show called Van Oekel's Discohoek, with wind-machines and fake snow.
I guess The Hammer were an eclectic band, as we mixed different styles and influences.
We were predominantly influenced by 10CC, but our second 45. I'll Do It All Again / 'Cos I'm In Love was definitely Byrds-oriented with the 12-string guitar and all.
Anyway, the producer of that 45 was Eddie Hilberts, more of an engineer with ambitions to become a producer. It was Eddie who first asked me to do session work for other artists. The very first record I did was Mississippi by Pussycat, can you believe it! A terrible song (*or in Dutch: "een ongelooflijk kutnummer") although it has sort of grown on me over the years. Even after thirty-three years, it's still making me some money as it became a smash hit all over the world and it's me who did the guitar parts!"
#) In the 70s Frits Hirschland was manager for various Dutch prog-bands, like Earth & Fire and Kayak, he also occasionaly turned to producing. In the 80s he suddenly made it to national notoriety as he became political spokesman and organiser behind a Surinam resistance group called The Jungle Commando, led by Ronnie Brunswijk. In Surinam Hirschland was known as "Commandant Potlood". It seemed he was approached by the French and Israel secret service to be an informer, but at the same time he would lobby in government circles in The Hague for support and weapons. To this day nobody knows the exact details about the seemingly double role he had. He commited suicide in an Amsterdam hotel in 1999.
Smyle reunion gig during the launch of the Clap Your Hands-cd, april 18, 2009