The Seeds: Pioneering Garage Rock Drummer Talks '60s Revolution & Reuniting Nearly 50 Years Later

The Seeds photographed on July 27, 1967 in Los Angeles.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Seeds photographed on July 27, 1967 in Los Angeles.

When The Seeds called it quits nearly 50 years ago, they were a regionally successful Los Angeles garage rock band with four Billboard Hot 100 charting singles, including genre classics "Pushin' Too Hard" and "Can't Seem to Make You Mind," to their name. But while many of their contemporaries -- bands whose commercial footprint far exceeded theirs -- have been forgotten, the Seeds' importance has only blossomed. Their 1966 self-titled debut is one of the first stone-cold classic protopunk albums, helping to pave the way for bands like the Stooges, MC5 and the Velvet Underground (the Seeds' 14-minute apocalyptic rock rave-up "Up In Her Room" predates similar experiments from the Velvets).

So while reunited rock bands aren't a scarce commodity these days, there's something special about the Seeds germinating into the 21st century.

Saturday (June 3) night, a reunited version of the low-key pioneering band -- including founding member Daryl Hooper and Seeds drummer Don Boomer, with Paul Kopf handling vocals in the wake of frontman Sky Sakon's 2009 death -- will perform following a screening of their 2014 documentary, The Seeds: Pushin' Too Hard, at the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley, Cali.

Ahead of that journey into the past, Billboard spoke with Don Boomer -- who joined the band when he was just 17 after the outfit's original drummer left -- for some thoughtful, incisive recollections about the '60s cultural revolution, how garage rock started as a reaction to the Leave It to Beaver/Eisenhower Era, and what it was like being a 17-year-old rock rebel.

The Seeds were one of the pioneering garage rock bands, certainly rawer and more experimental than most. Did you guys set out to pioneer a sound, or did you just fall into it?

With the Seeds, we just wanted to play our own music. We didn't want to be like anyone else – not like we were trying to pioneer anything, we just wanted it to be our own sound and it was simply what we came up with. In those days, everybody wanted to be different. What we really wanted to be was not mainstream. Being 20 in the '60s was wanting to rebel against everything. It happened more organically than by design.

Pioneering was not the right word, but we stumbled on and invented our own sound. It was the chemistry of the people who were there. We didn't want to be that pop, smooth thing. There were the pop stars, the Frankie Avalons and the teenage idols, and then bands started to happen. Given the time frame, it was still more Leave It To Beaver Land in the mid '60s. In the [documentary], Iggy Pop said we set the bar. Well, we did set the bar. In retrospect, 50 years later, we set the bar awfully low. But somebody has to start. And then everybody that comes along builds on that.

How did the audience react to your music? Did most people love the sound in concert, or did you guys freak people out?

[The audience] was Leave It to Beaver grown-up and trying to revolt a bit. That's what the audience looked like. The audiences were young and '60s hip and curious and willing to take a chance. I've had more than a few people tell me, "I really liked your band because my mother hated it." Back then things weren't as connected like they are today with social media. We didn't have rock and roll on the radio all the time -- it was just at night, even in Los Angeles. Let alone smaller cities -- they had maybe four hours a week. That was rebellious by itself.

We were coming from the straight '50s Eisenhower America. We had the Vietnam War, birth control, sexual revolution, drugs, and you mix all that together. There was the threat of nuclear war in the '60s -- we all thought one of these idiots in Russia or the U.S. would push the button and the world would be over before we made it to 30.

You came into the band after they'd already released a few albums. What was your experience like joining?

When the original drummer quit, I think he'd just burned out, for me it was great. I was 17; I was still in high school. I went to an audition and at that time, the Seeds were the biggest band in Los Angeles. In my world that was the biggest thing there was. To get picked from 20 people – I don't know why they picked me, I think I could play bass drummer louder than anyone – that was astounding to me. I played in '68, '69 until it eventually broke up because our lead singer got more off into drugs and became less reliable. That happened in lots of bands at the time. It ran its course.

What was your parents' response when you joined the band? Were they supportive, did they like the music?

Yeah, that was a challenge around my house. [Laughs] In those days, being an adult meant you were 21. I was 17, I couldn't sign contracts, I needed special dispensation to join the musicians' union. My mother became supportive. I'm sure she didn't like the music but she loved me so she supported me.

Your parents weren't wary with singer Sky Saxon doing drugs?

Well back in those days I don't think they knew. That was the difference between then and now. I was never much of a druggie. I did drugs, but not crazy or out of hand. I think all musicians back then dabbled. Unfortunately some people, it completely took a hold of them and we lost a lot of people that way. That's the problem with drugs -- there's good sides to them and bad sides when they get out of hand. That's true with anything.

Did you keep in touch with Sky after the breakup?

No. That's the funny thing with this. After I left the band in '69, I never saw anybody again until this movie premiere [in 2014]. We all got back together and were like, "Wow, there's people still interested in this." Sky passed on in 2009, but we still have a catalog of music and we still can play a '60s show like a '60s show. We're not incorporating new modern electronics and instruments that smooth out the sound. The whole goal is to reproduce the energy and excitement of a '60s show.

What was it like playing "Up In Her Room" live back in the day? That was really the first long-form experimental rock song on an album.

People went crazy. That was always our encore or last song. The crowds wouldn't let us go home or stop. We'd play it 20 minutes or longer if people were still dancing. We got used to playing it really long, so that's how it got recorded really long. Back in the '60s, shows were over when something broke. We didn't have PA systems or monitors -- the PA system was whatever it was when we showed up.

After the band broke up, what did you do in the '70s and '80s?

I would try to put together other projects. I had other bands, but it's interesting how … there's a lot of luck involved. It's being at the right place at the right time. Other projects weren't at the right place or right time. Anyway, I went on to another band where our manager was Telly Savalas and his brother Gus back in the Kojak days. We had lots of connections but it never happened. After five or 10 years of trying to become established again and not being successful, I went on to being an engineer. So I spent the last 20 years in the musical instrument business designing musical products. Amplifiers, speakers and mixers.

Were you surprised people still cared about the band when the documentary came out?

I guess it was surprising. It was surprising to the level they cared. As social media grows, it's easier to find people with similar likes. With the Seeds, there would be a mention in a magazine or some band would say "I used to listen to them" over the decades, but with Twitter and Facebook… we never realized. I knew there was some interest, but I never knew until the movie and we saw all the excitement and posts on Facebook and Twitter. It was like, "oh okay, if you want to hear it, we'll do it again." Nobody could replace Sky, but we auditioned a bunch of people and when we found Paul [Kopf], we went, "That's exactly it."

Looking back on it, why do you think music changed so drastically in the mid '60s? How did it go from Frankie Avalon and surf rock to garage rock?

It was the whole Beatles thing -- everybody owes everything to that. All of the sudden, that took little bands and put them into the big money category. Suddenly there were big shows. Before that it was shows no bigger than your local basketball gym. All of the sudden there were lots of guitars and drums and amps available, a lot of things congealed that allowed it to happen. And money behind it. 

But from the east coast to the west coast, there's a difference in the music, at least to me. I think the east coast stuff is more split between the British, it had a little more of a swing feel to it, and the west coast stuff is very straight with hard corners. That grew out of the surf music. I think the east coast rock has more of the rockabilly and Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins side to it. They incorporated more of that than the west coast side. At least in the L.A. area, that rock came out of the surf, instrumental rock. It was very simple, but very driving. Straight, un-swung -- not so much syncopation. Rockabilly has more swing from country and western.

What can people expect from seeing the Seeds at this June 3 show?

Well, we're our own opening act. The movie goes through band's history and then there's our show. By the time the movie is over and the band starts playing, the energy goes up a level of magnitude. For me, it's a high like no other. When you can get that in short bursts, it's an amazing thing. That's why we all still do it. We'll do it as long as we can.

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