By Daniel Dullum
Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong fan of Paul Revere & The Raiders, going back to the first time I saw them on Where The Action Is in 1965. I thought it was the coolest thing – a rock band dressed like the name sounded.
In 1995, I received a magazine assignment to talk to lead singer Mark Lindsay about his diverse career apart from The Raiders. I welcomed the challenge of setting aside my being a fan from getting the job done as a journalist.
The feature also included the backstory of “Indian Reservation,”a song that was intended as a solo single for Lindsay, but found its way routed toward the band. As band manager Roger Hart explained to me, “(the band and solo recordings) all came out of the same shop.”
Here’s an excerpt that explains the making of this classic, originally published in 1998:
One winter’s day in 1970, Jack Gold of Columbia’s A&R department, rang up Mark Lindsay with an idea for his next solo single. At least that was the initial intent.
“Jack called me up to his office there at CBS and said, ‘Look, I’ve got a new single for you Mark. It’s a wonderful follow-up to ‘Arizona’ and it would be great,” Lindsay recalled. “I said, Okay, what is it?’ He played me ‘Indian Reservation.’”
Marvin Rainwater recorded the first version of “Indian Reservation (Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” in 1959. British singer Don Fardon (of The Sorrows) had a minor hit with it in 1968 and though the John D. Loudermilk song was largely forgotten in the United States, Gold pointed out to Lindsay that it was re-released in the United Kingdom, where it reached the Top 10.
The CBS executive added that “the Indian thing is very timely,” citing the presence of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee on The New York Times’ best-seller list. Knowing that Lindsay was one-eighth Cherokee, Gold told him, “You’ll be able to sing it with conviction; I think it’s a perfect tune for you. Let’s give it a try.”
Since Jerry Fuller (who produced Lindsay’s initial solo recordings) was busy with another project, Lindsay decided to handle the production chores himself. The rhythm section reads like a Who’s Who of L.A. session players – Dean Parks on rhythm guitar, Carol Kaye on bass, Michael Melvoin on piano and Hal Blaine on drums. Studio veteran Artie Butler played the organ and arranged the rhythm track.
Lindsay recalled, “When Artie and I were listening to the playback, I said, ‘We need a kind of punctuation on the end of this record it ends too abruptly. You know that riff on the end of ‘Society’s Child’ by Janis Ian? Something like that.’
“Artie said, ‘Yeah, you mean this one?’ He runs down to the Hammond and plays it note-for-note. I asked, ‘How do you know that?’ He says, ‘I played it on her record. Why don’t we put it on yours?’
“I asked, ‘We can’t do that; I don’t want to plagiarize.’ Artie said, ‘It’s my lick. It’s going on your record; you got it.’ So, I held down a couple of the bass pedals, one of the fade notes when he played the riff, and we stuck it on. It’s not exactly note-for-note, but if you play ‘Society’s Child’ and ‘Indian Reservation,’ the endings are very similar.”
Not totally satisfied, Lindsay felt that for “Indian Reservation” to be a solo single, it needed to be “more fleshed out.” Toward that end, he brought in John D’Andrea, who did many of the arrangements on the Raiders’ Collage album. Inspired by a piece called “Dedicated to the Victims of Hiroshima” by Penderecki (a neo-classical composer from Poland), D’Andera created what became groundbreaking orchestration for a popular recording.
“On the Penderecki thing, it’s all acoustic violins, but he’s doing all this atonal stuff,” Lindsay explained. “And the harmonics are set up to make it sound like brass and synthesizers – very bizarre. I asked John, ‘Why don’t we do like a Penderecki trick and do a gliss down with trombones?’ He agreed, came back later and said, ‘I took your idea and used the violins instead. Just trust me on this one.’
“So, John wrote the chart for the violins to fall off like the Penderecki thing – he wrote horn parts and put them on violin.”
Even the percussion had a unique slant. “I wanted a muffled kind of sound on the drums,” Lindsay said. “Hal (Blaine) had dust covers for his drums and I told him to leave them on. So that was a different kind of sound.”
When “Indian Reservation” was ready for release, Lindsay began to have mixed emotions about its potential. “I thought I was identifying with it because I’m part Native American. I thought, ‘Maybe it’s too strange’ I was really ambivalent about it.”
Coincidentally, the Raiders, two years removed from their last hit, also needed a single. It was the first time Lindsay gave any thought to the notion of releasing “Indian Reservation” for the group.
“I went ahead and did (‘Indian Reservation’) on Raiders time, but it was always intended as a Mark Lindsay solo single,” Lindsay said. “I went to Paul (Revere) and said, ‘Look, I just cut ‘Birds of a Feather’ for the Raiders. I know it’s going to be a chart record. It’s not going to be a No. 1; it’ll be at least a Top 20. It’ll chart, it’s like an automatic. I just cut this thing called ‘Indian Reservation’ for myself, but I have no idea. It could be No. 1, it could be a bomb. We can put out either one, and I’ll put the Raiders’ name on the one you want.’ Paul said, ‘Well, let me think about it.’
“Unbeknownst to me, Paul took both masters up to KFXD Radio in Nampa, Idaho, and had a DJ – Tom Scott – play them over the air. ‘Indian Reservation’ came back 3-to-1 over ‘Birds of a Feather,’ so Paul comes back – doesn’t tell me this – and says, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking Mark, why don’t we try ‘Indian Reservation?’”
In March of 1971, at a time when the Raiders, as a group, were in a dormant state and on the verge of splitting up, “Indian Reservation” was released. Since the record was initially stalling in the lower depths of the music trade charts, Revere decided this would be his last stand and organized a promotion tour of the likes Columbia had never seen – before or since.
Along with his friend, Mike Allen, Revere traveled by motorcycle back and forth across America, personally greeting announcers and programmers at secondary market radio stations, figuring he’d get a better chance at garnering airplay. He guessed right.
“And everywhere Paul went, airplay picked up,” Raider bassist Keith Allison recalled.
At the same time, Lindsay was performing the new Raiders release with his group, Instant Joy, while touring with The Carpenters. Slowly, but surely, “Indian Reservation” climbed the charts and surged past Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” to reach No. 1 in Billboard on July 24, 1971.
With over 4 ½ million copies sold initially, “Indian Reservation” became the top-selling single in Columbia Records history since Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” in 1961, and would eventually be eclipsed by Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” (over 7 million) in 1982. It also set a Billboard record for most weeks on the Hot 100 prior to reaching No. 1 – 15.
“I must say, Paul did an incredible groundswell/grassroots thing that I think helped promote the record,” Lindsay said. “If it had come out as a Mark Lindsay record, Paul might not have jumped on his bike and done that, and it might have sold one or two million rather than the four million that it did.”
Allison said, “That record was the darndest thing – it sold a million on the way up, another million in the Top 10, another million at No. 1, and another million on the way down!”
The corresponding LP, Indian Reservation, described by Allison as a collection of “Mark Lindsay solo rejects,” peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. It was the band’s highest charting album since Revolution! In 1967.
Photo above: Mark Lindsay, original lead singer of Paul Revere & The Raiders, and the author following a 2004 concert in Portland, Ore.