When I was a kid, my parents had an album collection, and one of the albums I absolutely wore out was “Insight Out” by The Association. It includes two of the band’s biggest hits, “Windy” and “Never My Love,” both still among my favorite songs of all-time
The Association — which includes original members Jim Yester and Jules Alexander — appeared July 26 at the Sellersville Theatre 1894, and the show took me back to when I was 8 years old, spinning vinyl at my parents house in central Illinois.
I was fortunate to interview Yester for a chapter in “The Vinyl Dialogues Volume IV: From Studio to Stylus” on the making of “Insight Out.” It was a thrill for me to hear Yester’s recollections of the making of that album. What follows is the story of that album, as told by Yester.
Ruthann Friedman was kind of like a den mother for Jules Alexander, Russ Giguere, Ted Bluecher Jr. and Jim Yester.
The four artists, members of the band The Association, lived together in a house in Hollywood. Friedman was a friend who had been introduced to the guys by Van Dyke Parks, a lyricist who in early 1966 had collaborated with Brian Wilson for the Beach Boys’ “Smile” project.
Friedman wrote what some of The Association members thought were real outside-the-box songs. There was one stretch in the mid-1960s when she slept on the couch at the Hollywood house of The Association members for several weeks while trying to find a place to live.
The search for a place to call her own led Friedman from Hollywood up the California coast to San Francisco, where she bunked for a time at the home of David Crosby, then a member of the Byrds, all the while continuing to write songs.
Tom Shipley was a songwriter who had sold a couple of songs to A&M Records and the record company thought he had potential. So they put Shipley together with Friedman and Tandyn Almer and called them The Garden Club. Almer had written the single “Along Comes Mary,” which The Association had put on its 1966 debut album “And Then . . . Along Comes the Association.” The song was a hit that reached No. 7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart.
Friedman and Shipley continued to write songs once Friedman had moved into Crosby’s basement. One evening, Friedman asked Shipley to come over. She was working on a song and wanted him to help her finish it.
But Shipley was also writing songs with another songwriter, Michael Brewer, and they were working on one that evening called “She Thinks She’s a Woman.”
“And I said, ‘Ruthann, I’ll tell you what, I’ll make it tomorrow night,” Shipley recalled telling Friedman. “So she finished the song by herself that night.”
Shipley eventually helped Friedman cut the demo for the song. When Friedman returned to Hollywood several weeks later, she again approached The Association, this time with a completed song and demo in hand for the band’s consideration.
“She came back from San Fransisco and said, ‘When I was out there, I wrote this kind of contemporary song. But I don’t know if it’s too folky for you guys,’” recalled Jim Yester, rhythm guitarist and vocalist for The Association. “She sat down on the kitchen floor with her guitar and played us the song. We thought, oh, that’s kind of neat.”
The song was “Windy.”
In just five months in 1966, from July to November, The Association had released its first two albums, “And Then . . . Along Comes The Association” and “Renaissance” for Valiant Records. The first album featured two hit singles, “Along Comes Mary,” and “Cherish,” which was the band’s first No. 1 song on the Hot 100 Singles chart.
The band had already started working on some songs for its next album, which would be called “Insight Out,” most notably “Never My Love” and “Requiem for the Masses,” when Valiant went out of business and was absorbed by its distributor, Warner Brothers. The band’s first album was produced by Curt Boettcher and the second album was produced by Jim Yester’s brother, Jerry Yester, who had handled the production of the first two songs.
The switch to Warner Brothers coincided with The Association’s desire to elevate the band from the local and regional music scene to the national level. Bones Howe, a well-known recording engineer at the time who had recorded “California Dreamin’” and “Monday, Monday” for The Mamas and The Papas, was chosen to produce The Association’s “Insight Out” album and Jerry Yester was out.
When The Association heard Friedman’s “Windy,” they wanted Howe to hear it.
“So we had Ruth play it for Bones and he said, ‘I got an idea for that.’ Bones had an idea that if we stuck to the folk idiom, with a driving rock background — kind of the way that ‘Windy’ is — that we would have that tag forever,” said Jim Yester.
Another part of the Warner deal for “Insight Out” was that in addition to having Howe produce, he was also going to use the best studio musicians in Los Angeles, known as The Wrecking Crew, which had just completed recording Pet Sounds for Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.
According to Jim Yester, the band had finished a recording that included the vocals for “Windy” around 4 a.m., just ahead of an 8 a.m. scheduled flight out of Los Angeles to Birmingham, Alabama, for a gig there.
Right in the middle of all this, Jules Alexander had decided to leave the band. He wasn’t in on the recording session for “Windy,” but he was honoring some of the concert commitments the band had already made, so he was on the plane to Birmingham, along with a tape of the “Windy” recording session.
“Once we got to the auditorium in Birmingham, we put that tape on the sound system and played it and we all went totally bananas,” said Yester. “We were dancing around the auditorium and we thought, man, that is a smash. And it was. It went up the charts so fast it made our heads spin.
“We had no idea at the time who The Wrecking Crew was, even though on our first album, a lot of the early Wrecking Crew guys were involved [guitarist Mike Deasy, bassist Jerry Scheff and percussionists Jim Troxel and Toxey French],” said Yester. “They turned out to be fantastic. They were such incredible guys, not only monster musicians, but just the neatest guys. Any ideas that you had, they immediately snapped right on them.”
In between concert gigs, The Association continued to record the songs for “Insight Out.” But now it was faced with trying to find a replacement for Alexander.
The band interviewed Michael Brewer, whom they knew from Los Angeles, but didn’t hire him.
“Terry Kirkman was a friend of mine and he used to come by all the time,” said Brewer. “He would say, ‘Would you like to join The Association?’ This was about the time Tom [Shipley] and I were really writing songs and going into the studio and enjoying our songs. I thought I could join a group with a bunch of guys and once in a while maybe get to do a song of mine. Or I could have a partner and we could do all of our own songs. And I have absolutely no regrets. I made the right choice.”
Brewer and Shipley would go on a few years later to form a duo and record the hit single “One Toke Over the Line.”
But The Association was still seeking a replacement for Alexander.
During one of the group’s recording sessions for “Insight Out” Larry Ramos, a one-time member of the New Christy Minstrels who had embarked on a solo career, was recording with a friend the same day in an adjacent studio.
Kirkman, who played wind instruments and provided vocals for The Association and had written “Cherish” for the band, approached Ramos and asked him to join the group.
Ramos said yes.
“When I joined the group, I noticed that the guys were very careful about the music that they selected,” said Ramos. “They had done two albums and they had two hits. From hundreds and hundreds of pieces of music that were submitted to us — and we also wrote our own music — we didn’t care about where the music came from as long as it was good. If we were fortunate to have written the music and it was good enough, then more power to the guys who wrote it.”
“Never My Love” was one of the songs that the band had selected to record before Ramos joined the group. The Addrisi Brothers — Don and Dick — had written the song, and it was one that the brothers had played for The Association at the Hollywood house.
“It’s a classic. I love that song and I loved it the first time I ever heard it,” said Ramos. “There are certain things that you look for in a piece of music when you record it — the memorable melodies, the memorable lyrics, that has a lot to do with it. And the production of the recording itself. You have to have all of those elements together to have a successful record. And we were very, very fortunate that we had all of these happening to us not just once, not just twice, not just three times, but several times. It surprised many of the guys in the group that we were fortunate to have all these hits.”
Touring between recording sessions for “Insight Out” still presented a challenge for the band, even after Ramos joined. Alexander was still committed to the touring schedule, although not the recording sessions. So Ramos initially went on tour with the band, but just to watch.
There was an incident on the road, though, that forced Ramos into the touring band. One afternoon before a concert, the guys were driving around and bassist Brian Cole (Cole’s son Jordan is a member of the The Association’s current touring lineup) was throwing firecrackers out the car window. But Cole hung on to one of the firecrackers too long and it blew up in his hand. That meant he couldn’t play bass for that evening’s show.
“So that night, we said, ‘OK Larry, here is your baptism by fire.’ Jules went to bass and Larry went to lead guitar,” said Yester.
Ramos was now a full-fledged member of the studio group recording “Insight Out” and the touring band.
In addition to The Wrecking Crew, the “Insight Out” recording sessions also included the band working with vocal arranger Clark Burroughs, who was a tenor for a group called the Hi-Lo’s.
“Clark did phenomenal work. We would have three mikes in a semi-circle and he would sit on the inside of the semi-circle on a stool and direct us. He had headphones on so he could hear everything. And he’d move guys back and move guys up, have guys sing louder. It was just fantastic,” said Yester.
“The arrangement that you hear on the record, the vocal harmonies are really kind of suppressed. Bones liked to mix it where you get the feel of the background voices but you couldn’t really hear the actual parts, except in the places where it was a third and a fifth. We would sing the harmonies and then we’d add parts. It was just incredible-sounding,” he said.
Released ahead of the album, the single “Windy” would become the band’s next No. 1 single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. The follow-up single, “Never My Love,” also released in advance of the album and recorded before “Windy,” reached No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles.
More than 50 years later, The Association performed both of those songs in Sellersville, PA, on July 26. Larry Ramos died in 2014. His brother, Del Ramos, has been with the band since 1972, and he still performs with the touring band.
And for a couple of hours, I was 8 years old again.