May 24, 2013

The Gentle Soul - Our National Anthem (1968)

Formed in 1966, this duo featured singer/songwriters Pamela Polland and Rick Stanley, who released two singles and one full length album on Epic Records in 1968. Their album, self-titled The Gentle Soul, featured a who’s who of famous names as accompanying session musicians: Ry Cooder, Van Dyke Parks, Paul Horn, Taj Mahal, and Larry Knechtel. The album was also produced by famed musician and record producer Terry Melcher, who had significantly helped shape the sound of The Byrds as well as working with The Beach Boys. The album even featured a song written by Jackson Browne, who was not yet famous and only fourteen years old at the time. Despite some serious talent coming from all angles, the band was never given proper promotion from their label and they split apart in 1969.

Written by Pamela Polland, this song was released as the group’s second single. Pamela, Rick, and their producer Terry were certain that this was going to be their break-out hit. As stated on Pamela’s website, “Pamela and Rick's message was always that love is the great healer, the great uniter, and that love is always right. That was the "anthem" of the Gentle Soul, and this song represented that theme.” Unfortunately, with zero effort to promote the band or this single, the song went nowhere.

A Special Edition post with Pamela Polland of The Gentle Soul!

It's my absolute pleasure to say that we recently had the fortune of conducting an interview with the incredibly kind and sweet Pamela Polland via email. These days, Pamela is teaching people to play ukulele, sing, and write songs in Hawaii and all over the world via video chat. She also lends her voice professionally to artists around the world. If you're interested in any of the items mentioned, please read the information after the story to find out how you can connect with Pamela.
A Bit Like You And Me: I know this breaks all rules of politeness, but what year were you born? When is your birthday?

Pamela Polland: I don't mind. I hope to be an inspiration, so I tell the truth about my age and hope to show how active, vital, and creative! one can be at ANY age with the right attitude. I especially like to show people what a long life the human voice can have if taken care of. I'm singing better than ever at 68.

August 15th, 1944.

ABLYAM: Can you recall a defining moment in your youth that lured you toward wanting to be a musical artist?

Pamela: Probably a few defining moments... I started writing songs at the age of 9 because my parents would only allow classical music in the house - maybe an occasional Broadway show score. But NEVER pop music: no Beatles, no Dylan - which was all my friends listened to. So in order to "hear" that kind of music at home, I started writing my own songs. But I really wanted to be a dancer, or a choreographer from childhood until I was around 16.

At sixteen, I looked back on my life... a funny thing to do at that age, but that's what I did, and said, "Hmmm. The one thing I've done consistently is write songs, so I think that's what I'll be. A songwriter."

ABLYAM: In your teenage years, you were playing folk clubs in Southern California, occasionally accompanied by Ry Cooder. How did the budding music scene of that area influence your music and your life?

Pamela: Actually, I worked with Ry for two years. I affectionately call him my first voice teacher, because he taught me how to truly listen and pay attention to nuance. I can't say how the LA music scene influenced my music, because I was always an originator. I didn't copy other people (as a writer). I forged my own path. In fact, I left California and lived in New York for six months because the "industry" couldn't figure out what I was doing. They were like, "You're too folk for rock and you're too rock for folk." But when I got back from NY, The Byrds had hit the scene, the term "folk rock" was born, and suddenly what I'd been doing for years made sense.

As for how the music scene influenced my life... well, it allowed me to be a professional doing what I love; and, I guess I could say it validated my simply being truly myself.

ABLYAM: In 1966, you formed The Gentle Soul with Rick Stanley. How and where did you first meet Rick?

Pamela: I'm pretty sure we were introduced by someone who knew I was looking for a new songwriting/singing partner. I'd been working up a duo with someone else who wasn't very reliable - read: wrong kind of drugs :-). So I got introduced to Rick, and we fit beautifully musically.

LOVED our voices together, and our writing styles merged well too.

ABLYAM: Given yours and Rick’s mutual interest in meditation, metaphysics, and spiritual exploration, did LSD or any other hallucinogenic have a part in your life?

Pamela: I had a short, but highly influential run with psychedelics. I LOVED LSD and the opening it gave me to broader perspectives that I might not have otherwise been privy to. But after a while, I felt it depleting my health and I wasn't willing to trade that for the glorious high.

I remember on one trip, laying out in the desert looking up at the starriest of skies, I asked God, "How can I have THIS without the drug?"
And the answer came back, "Without the drug."

Sometimes the simplest truths are the profoundest. To this day, I still can call up what I learned from those wonderful "trips."


ABLYAM: Would you say it had a significantly helping hand in the song-writing process?

Pamela: I don't think I wrote much while high. But I THOUGHT a lot while high, and then my thoughts eventually led to songs.

ABLYAM: Southern California in the mid-60s is somewhat synonymous with Haight-Ashbury and the center of the hippie movement. How close were you to that area? How involved, if at all, were you in that scene?

Pamela: Which scene? The Haight? If so, I visited a couple of times, but I was not close to that scene. I was deeply close to the Laurel Canyon creative scene in the mid to late '60s. And when I moved to Echo Park, my nearest neighbors were Jackson Browne and Glenn Fry; and JD Souther and Linda Ronstadt hung out with us; and even Kenny Loggins popped in. And we all knew The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, The Association, and Jimi Hendrix would show up at the parties we went to. It was a melting pot of insane talent. I even knew The Doors and Joni Mitchell. When I look back on all the great talent I brushed up against, I can't believe that all happened in THIS lifetime :-)

ABLYAM: I think when the general population sees a male and female musical partnership such as The Gentle Soul’s, they naturally assume there’s some sort of romance between the artists. Was there ever a romantic side to your relationship with Rick?

Pamela: NEVER. If anything, we had a little trouble getting along :-) But we both loved the music we made. That was our glue.

ABLYAM: What time-frame were the songs on The Gentle Soul’s album recorded? Do you know what date the album was released in 1968?

Pamela: I thought the album was released in 1969. LOL! Just goes ta show what I know :-) We formed in late 1966, got our record deal in 1967, and started recording shortly thereafter. A couple of singles. And then I think we recorded most of the album in 1968. I really don't remember the release date. It was all spread out over a nearly two year period though.

ABLYAM: You mention on your website that a personal friend of yours and Rick’s, “Wendy,” was the inspiration for the song “Song for Three.” You also mention that it’s “too personal” to talk about. Can you provide any information about who Wendy was and how she managed to inspire this song?

Pamela: Wendy was actually male. He had the total spirit of a woman, but in a man's body. My brother was gay, but Wendy was something so different. He didn't think of himself as "gay," he just felt like a woman, but he had a penis. I don't think he ever wanted to use it!! He taught me more about being a woman than any "real" women I had known at that point, my mother included. He was so sweet and sort of translucent. But he was a MAJOR pot head, and refused to conceal it. This got him in a LOT of trouble and, eventually, jail. Really sad stuff. I adored him.

ABLYAM: I watched a television documentary which you were in called Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution featuring Leonard Bernstein. How were you approached to appear in that documentary?

Pamela: I think Clive might have suggested it. Leonard so sincerely wanted to understand the music of our (my) generation.

ABLYAM: You met Jackson Browne (who was 14 at the time), when you were 19. How and where did you meet?

Pamela: Bob's Big Boy :-) A mutual friend of ours, Sandi Bachom, who is currently a fine music videographer in New York City, knew that we both wrote songs and thought we'd enjoy meeting each other. So she brought Jackson and his dear friend and poet, Greg Copeland, to the Costa Mesa Bob's Big Boy, where I was waitressing to help put myself through college. The three of them sat at the bar and I served them hamburgers and then we arranged to meet at my house so I could hear Jackson's songs. At the time, he had only written three songs. When I heard "Flying Thing," I knew he was going places.

ABLYAM: The Gentle Soul recorded one of only three songs that Browne had written, “Flying Thing.” Was Browne responsible for the musical arrangement or only the lyrics?

Pamela: He wrote the song - music and lyrics, but the arrangement was ours (The Gentle Soul). In listening to it now, I can hear the total Mama's and Papa's influence - except for one little detail: they didn't exist then!! Perhaps we were THEIR influence?? :-)

ABLYAM: Why was “Flying Thing” left off of the album?

Pamela: Probably because we didn't write it.

ABLYAM: What’s your favorite Gentle Soul recording?

Pamela: "Our National Anthem" for sure. I LOVE that song and it still sounds like a hit to me. I guess I'm stuck in the '60s :-)

I still like most of the album. I never did care for the Overture. That was Terry's idea (producer) and I just thought it took up space that could have been filled with more of our songs.

ABLYAM: The Gentle Soul broke up in 1969. Was it a sudden decision or something that you could see coming for some time? What caused the break up?

Pamela: We just weren't getting ANY support from our record company. You can only play local clubs so many times before it becomes drudgery.

I think if Columbia or Epic had really stepped up and promoted us, we would have stayed together a long time. They never sent us out on tour, they only advertised our album in ONE publication ONE time - they never set up interviews, got us on TV - nothing. We were just a tax write off for the world's largest record company who happened to need tax write offs in those days. It was sad beyond sad. We were so prolific and I still think damn good at what we did. Cute too :-) All we needed was some support.

As it was, we kicked it hard for three years and it was a slow fizzle at the end, realizing that we couldn't do it by ourselves anymore. And Rick was very dedicated to Maharishi and wanted to be as close to him as possible, so there was something organic to it all, but still sad.

ABLYAM: If you had the opportunity to do it all over again, knowing what you know now, would you change anything?

Pamela: Maybe I would have fought harder for CBS to back us. I've never been much of a fighter. I probably just accepted it all as "fate" at the time, but now I think we tend to make our paths. We all just let it fall apart.

ABLYAM: And lastly, what are you up to these days?

Pamela: I still sing and LOVE to record. With the digital age, if someone wants me as their backup (or even lead) vocalist, it's as easy as sending me a track, I record the vocal(s) in my home studio and fly my voice back to them via some file sharing service. I've been the back-up vocalist for Guido Bungenstock, a killer rock guitarist in Germany, for Marco Ragni, a talented singer songwriter in Italy, for Gary Smalls, a native American rocker from Wyoming, and many others - none of whom I have ever met in person!!! (They all found me on Facebook). Steven Kelley, a talented songwriter from Atlanta, has used me as the lead vocalist on his last four songwriter demos. I've got more projects lined up, and I always post the finished mixes on my Facebook profile wall.

ABLYAM: Thank you SO much for your time and willingness to share your stories with me and my readers.

Pamela: Oh, I'm honored to be asked!! Thank YOU for the opportunity to let people know more about me, the band, and that time in my life.

ABLYAM: I’m sure I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say we’re incredibly grateful.

Pamela: *I'M* grateful!!

A truly altruistic individual, Pamela signed off on her email with "Warmest aloha from Maui, Pamela". She was truly a pleasure to correspond with. I'd like to thank her once again for taking the time to add to our growing collection of first-hand '60s music history!

To visit Pamela's website, please click here.
If you're interested in seeing what Pamela is up to these days, why not like her Facebook page?
If you're interested in voice lessons, ukulele lessons, or songwriting lessons with Pamela via Skype, no matter where you are in the world, you can get more information on Pamela's site, here. You can also see an introductory video about it on YouTube.
Speaking of YouTube, see what Pamela is up to these days, musically, via her YouTube channel.
If you're looking for a female vocalist and you'd like to have Pamela record something on your behalf, be sure to get into contact with her here.

And now that you've enjoyed this exclusive story, why not check out what other exclusive stories we've received?

[Update: Rick Stanley of The Gentle Soul provided us with an exclusive story! You can read it here.]

album art

The Gentle Soul - Our National Anthem (1968)

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You were involved with a dozen other loves last year
And I was out trying to conquer the world last year
But I knew we’d meet again
And that it would happen this way
Hey, hey, hey

It’s love
It’s for me
It’s alright
It’s alright for me
And it’s love
It’s love and it’s right for me
Hey, hey, hey

You never had the time to care at all last year
And I don’t remember if I was aware last year
But I knew we’d meet again
And we’d get together this way
Hey, hey, hey

It’s right for me
It’s alright
It’s alright for me
And it’s love
It’s love and it’s right for me
Hey, hey, hey

But I knew we’d meet again
And that it would happen this way
Hey, hey, hey

It’s alright for me
It’s alright
It’s alright for me
And it’s love
It’s love and it’s right for me

1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful article about an incredibly wonderful person who has had a very positive influence on may life. I feel very fortunate having made contact with thie "Gentle Soul."