Other Musical Phantoms: Neil Merryweather and Jim Gustafson. Who?

Then You Don’t Know William Kyle Eidson II or Lori Lieberman, Either

R D Francis
14 min readAug 22, 2018


Some may say this writer’s chosen profession of “musicology” isn’t a real profession. Not a real job. There are no bachelors or masters degree programs offered at universities. It’s a self-professed journalistic term created by those who chose not to swim the mainstream; ones who chose to slog the brackish, vegetative, overgrown tributaries of the music industry’s mighty Mississippi. It’s an idiom that oozes of music snobbery.

The reality of this wish-fulfillment “career” is that it is a real job — a job with long hours encased in private, spare bedrooms or corners in family rooms; an occupation with no pay or tangible assets or materialistic gain. It’s a Kurt Vonnegut-inspired profession of the arts. You just do it. Not for money. Not for material. Not for accolades. But for human spirit; for the self-received, enormous reward obtained from the fact you created something out of nothingness; you added black to digitized, plain-white paper.

And so it goes . . . the life in the sarcastic-vinylphile world of “music snobbery.” Why is it, when someone reaches a point in the starless perimeters of Jim Morrison’s immaculate state — such as an expert in wines or fine art — society bestows the critical terms of “connoisseur” or “aficionado,” but when you revere 12-inch flat circles encased in cardboard, you’re an uneducated, stoned and drunk slob (inebriates this writer never touches)?

In fact, this writer is a “musicologist,” as Malcolm Frank Thompson put it one day during an online chat. So are this writer’s “snobbish” brothers from different mothers in the form of Malcolm (Mr. Paisley) on RPPFM 98.7 in Melbourne, Australia, Michail Lagopatis, the editor of the Athens, Greece-based publication TimeMazine, and J.D Stone, a soon-to-be Internet-bound, former sixties progressive-rock disc jockey.

The truth is that we, the Don Quixotes of the music world, bat at windmills and fight off the mainstream dragons and defend the forgotten underdogs. We are errant knights who trek the divine comedies of musicians who sunk into the muck and mire at Robert Johnson’s cross roads; the cursed Daniel Websters beaten by the Devil.

We are not “snobs”; for our fight is a just battle: for every chart-topping and tour-sell out musician, there are those who went into the dusty corners of vintage vinyl record stores — most bequeathed with a decade’s old industry scarlet letter: a notch-cut or hole-punch in the upper-right hand corner of their work. We want you to remember them: our rock idols; our musical gods.

And for every Arthur Pendragon, the man behind 1974’s Phantom’s Divine Comedy: Part 1 (a rock opera by Detroit’s Walpurgis), there are the Neil Merryweathers, Jim Gustafsons, William Kyle Eidson IIs, and Lori Liebermans denied that clever stroke of luck (or curse) of an innovative marketing tactic. Yes, “marketing.” Ultimately, record companies (and management companies) are banks that issue loans to musicians to record music; as such, the issuer wants an interest return on their loan (as quickly as possible). So, records are marketed. And sometimes, the marketing works. Most times those soul baring, 12-inchs of black plastic land with a thud in the marketplace.

Artie Ripp: The Trinity of Billy Joel, Neil Merryweather and William Kyle Eidson II

Lacking the knack of spectacle or crafty marketing techniques implemented by Tony DeFries (David Bowie, Johnny Cougar), Jerry Brandt (Carly Simon, Jobriath), Kim Fowley (The Runaways, The Hollywood Stars), and Ed “Punch” Andrews (Phantom, Bob Seger, Kid Rock), there was Artie Ripp — who earned the “Artie Ripoff” epithet for his industry reputation of (allegedly) taking advantage of the acts signed to his Family Productions by squeezing them with shrewd contracts.

The most vocal of those artists is one of this writer’s favorites (all the way back to the Hassels and Attila): Billy Joel. (Do read about his career, chronicled in the comprehensive, respective biographies by Hank Bordowitz and Fred Schruers: Billy Joel: The Life & Times of an Angry Young Man and Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography, both excellent rock reads about a brilliant musician who survived Johnson’s crossroads.)

As a respected and talented ABC Records-employed backup singer, Ripp appeared on “Diana,” Paul Anka’s 1957 hit single. Ripp’s skills and reputation inspired ABC to release a single for Ripp’s own group, the Four Temptations, with 1958’s “Cathy b/w Rock & Roll Baby.” Ripp then successful transitioned into the publishing, recording and distribution sectors of the business by 1961; first working for Don Kirshner’s Aldon Music, then co-founding Kama Sutra and Buddah Records with Neil Bogart.

Kama Sutra served as the home to the innovative proto-metal power-trio Dust, along with the Flamin’ Groovies (“Shake Some Action”), Sopwith Camel (“Hello, Hello”) Stories (“Brother Louie”), the Lovin’ Spoonful (“Do You Believe in Magic”), and topped the charts with the one-hit wonders of “One Toke Over the Line,” a 1971 U.S Top Ten hit by Brewer & Shipley, and the 1970 U.S Top Five hit, “The Rapper,” from (Donnie Iris and) the Jaggerz out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Buddah produced a string of delicious AM radio bubblegum hits (do read Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth by Kim Cooper; listen to the tunes on You Tube while you do — you’ll have a great time) during the early seventies by the Ohio Express and the 1910 Fruitgum Company, along with the Grammy Award-winning Gladys Knight and the Pips, who scored a U.S number one single with “Midnight Train to Georgia.” (Ripp’s Buddah associate, Neil Bogart, went onto form Casablanca Records — and signed Kiss and the anti-Kiss, Angel.)

In 1970, as result of Ripp’s brilliant successes, Famous Music Corporation, the music publishing division of Paramount Pictures (itself a division of Gulf + Western) provided financial backing for Ripp to incorporate his own label, Family Productions. One of Ripp’s earliest signings was a 22-year-old Billy Joel, formerly with Attila, a proto-metal outfit (not too far off from what Dust tried to accomplish), who issued a lone, eponymous effort for Epic in 1970.

Joel’s twisted “managerial nightmares” began with Michael Lang, the co-creator of the Woodstock Festival and founder of Just Sunshine Records. Joel came under the auspices of Artie Ripp when Lang sold his interest in the future “Piano Man” to Ripp; the fruit was Joel’s introspective, singer/songwriter debut, 1971’s Cold Spring Harbor, which featured the decades-later radio hit (in a live concert version), “She’s Got a Way.”

Joel, wanting to escape his “oppressive” Family Productions contract to sign with Columbia Records, Ripp negotiated a deal in which he continued to receive four percent royalties (roughly .28 cents a record) and Lang received two percent, for Joel’s next ten Columbia albums (this is why the “animal with pups on her teats” logo for Family Productions appears on Joel’s albums).

In a connection to Kim Fowley: Ripp’s Fidelity Recording Studios hosted Fowley’s newest endeavor, the Runaways, which recorded their groundbreaking “Cherry Bomb” single at the studio. As an actor, Ripp appeared in the 1978 biopic about American disc jockey Alan Freed, American Hot Wax, as Freed’s manager.

Billy Joel wasn’t the only musician who cried “foul” regarding the alleged managerial constraints of Artie Ripp. In line behind Joel: Family Productions label mates Neil Merryweather and William Kyle Eidson II.

Neil Merryweather: Canada’s Lost Musical Mastermind

Neil Merryweather, influenced by David Bowie with his Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars project, achieved his low-selling, yet critically acclaimed creative peak of seventies excess with two (fantastic!) heavy-psych space-rock albums from his Space Rangers project.

Devotees of early-seventies glam-rock and proto-metal obscurities may note the similarities in artwork and sound on the Space Rangers to that of the John Entwistle-fronted rock opera of the Flash Fearless vs. the Zorg Women project featuring Detroiter Alice Cooper; the album itself inspired by Bowie’s Ziggy persona.

A Canadian singer and bassist, Neil Merryweather got his professional start with the Just Us, which released 1965’s “I Don’t Love You b/w I Can Tell” on Quality Records (the label had a major Canadian and U.S chart hit with “Shakin’ All Over” from the Guess Who). Merryweather eventually joined Rick James (later known for his 1981 disco-funk smash, “Superfreak”) in the Mynah Birds (which featured Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, who had already left for Buffalo Springfield) and recorded the August 1967 single, “It’s My Time,” at Detroit’s Motown Studios. Upon the departure of Rick James, Merryweather kept the Mynah Birds active with fellow Canadian Bruce Cockburn (later known to U.S radio and video audiences for the singles “Wondering Where the Lions Are” from 1980 and 1984’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”; they also played together in Flying Circus.)

Merryweather then established Mama Lion with lead vocalist Lynn Carey and signed with Ripp’s Family Productions. After issuing two Janis Joplin-inspired, psychedelic-blues n’ soul efforts with Preserve Wildlife and Give It Everything I’ve Got (both 1972), Mama Lion — sans Carey — became the harder, blues-rocking Heavy Cruiser. Their critically acclaimed, two album stint with Heavy Cruiser and Lucky Dog (1972) attracted the attention of a more industry-reputable managerial suitor, Shep Gordon (he also attempted to sign Iggy Pop; he lost to Danny Sugerman); Gordon wanted to sign and book Heavy Cruiser as Alice Cooper’s opening act. (An arrangement analogous to Punch Andrews signing and booking Phantom (Walpurgis) as Seger’s opening act.) Sadly, according to Merryweather, due to Artie Ripp’s “interference,” the Gordon-Cooper deal soured.

After losing Iggy Pop and Merryweather, Gordon signed Detroit émigré guitarist Dick Wagner, formerly of the Frost, whose new, heavy endeavor, Ursa Major, which featured a pre-solo bound Billy Joel in its embryonic stages, became Cooper’s opening act . . . and Wagner would go on to write “Only Women Bleed” for Cooper.

After assisting Billy Joel in the studio on an early demo of “Piano Man,” which led to Joel signing with Columbia Records (Merryweather has since uploaded a You Tube-cut with Billy Joel jamming with Heavy Cruiser on a cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.”), Merryweather devised the glam-inspired, proto-metal Space Rangers project around the then high-tech Chamberlin keyboard, also electronically augmenting the band with a then-groundbreaking use of Octivators and Echoplexes. Initially recording with Capitol, Merryweather issued Space Rangers (1974), then Kryptonite (1975) on Mercury.

The drummer in Mama Lion and the Space Rangers, Tim McGovern, would find success as a guitarist. Starting with the L.A new-wave band the Pop, then with the Motels, McGovern found MTV success with “Belly of the Whale,” as the frontman for the Burning Sensations, which also placed their cover of Jonathan Richman’s (The Modern Lovers!) “Pablo Picasso” on the punk-influenced soundtrack for 1984’s Repo Man.

Merryweather, sensing the changing times, adopted a pop-rock, new-wave sound with Eyes, a Holland-based band featuring ex-members of the Nina Hagen Band and Herman Brood’s Wild Romance, which released Radical Genes on RCA Records. However, Merryweather returned to his heavy-metal roots — innovatively streamlining and glamming the “old sound” for a wider, commercial appeal — as the manager, bassist, and chief songwriter for the solo career of ex-Runaway Lita Ford on her progenitive hair-metal debut, Out for Blood.

Leaving the industry, but not leaving his creative side behind, Neil forged a career as an award-winning painter, sculpture, and photographer and worked in the creative department for the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works. Today, he’s moved back into the music business, composing music for teen-oriented television shows and, with ex-Space Rangers Mike Willis and Jamie Herndon, plans to enter the studio for a new Space Rangers album.

Billy Joel’s Doppelganger: William “Kyle” Eidson

Courtesy of an article, “Kyle, the Lost Rival to Billy Joel,” posted at illfolks.blogspot.com, we learn William Kyle Eidson II was another promising singer-songwriter signed to Family Productions. Truncating his professional name to Kyle, the earthy, folk-inspired country-rocker released the antithesis to Joel’s pop-oriented Cold Spring Harbor with Times That Try a Man’s Soul (1971); Artie Ripp employed studio guitarist Don Evans for both albums. Sadly, as did Merryweather’s three bands under Ripp-guidance, Kyle’s, like Joel’s (although Kyle’s escaped the infamous “chipmunk” mastering snafu that plagued Joel’s) debut album, flopped due to Ripp’s reported “dealings,” and Paramount Studios’ alleged lackluster attempt at developing a music division/record label with Artie Ripp.

While Joel, with Columbia’s help, attempted to escape Ripp’s shadow, Kyle issued a 1973 self-titled sophomore effort, featuring the radio singles “Stoney Road” and “She Brings Sunshine” — for another “movie studio” operated-label, MGM Records. Then, with ex-Monkees songsmith and studio musician Bobby Hart as producer, Kyle moved into more pop-oriented material with another self-titled album (his third) — this time for ABC-Dunhill Records with the 1974 singles of “Rescue Me” and “I’ll Be Back Again.” According to the illfolks site, Kyle received positive press in a May 1971 issue of Billboard for his debut album, while “She Brings Sunshine” nearly made the Billboard Top 100 in 1973.

As with Joel’s first ten Columbia albums, Kyle’s albums with MGM and ABC-Dunhill also carried Artie Ripp’s Family Productions logo. Kyle, unlike Joel and Merryweather, has never expressed any print or web pontifications regarding his time under the Family Productions managerial banner. He’s never been heard from again.

Lori Lieberman: A Song So Softly, Never Heard

As with Kyle, another forgotten folk artist of the early seventies traveled an analogous path paved with managerial bad luck and worse fortunes: Lori Lieberman.

An early seventies confessional folk-pop singer in the mode of hit makers Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Janis Ian, Lori Lieberman signed a production, recording and publishing deal with the songwriting partnership of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel who, in turn, signed their own production deal with Capitol Records (an analogous business arrangement to those signed by Detroit’s Grand Funk Railroad and Phantom, who signed deals with Terry Knight’s Good Knight Productions and Ed “Punch” Andrews’ Hideout Productions, respectively; they, in turn, had production deals with Capitol Records).

As with most forgotten music acts of late sixties and early seventies burgeoning American FM radio era, the Internet also exhumed Lieberman’s career frustrations in the wake of her 1971 debut single, “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” becoming a 1997 Grammy Award-winning single for the American Hip-Hop group, the Fugees — remade under the truncated title of “Killing Me Softly,” from the Fugees’ 1996 album, The Score.

From the time the song became one of the biggest-selling number one singles of 1973, as remade by R&B artist Roberta Flack, credits and royalties for the song became a point of contention for Lieberman, as she long claimed she contributed to the song’s lyrics. While the writing team of Fox and Gimbel scored another 1973 Top Ten hit with Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” and composed the television theme songs for the ABC-TV Network’s Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, Lieberman floundered with three more albums for Capitol in the United States. The albums, however, found a receptive audience in Europe (a country rife with voracious music connoisseurs), which resulted in a top-selling, Euro-only release of a 1976 greatest hits package, The Best of Lori Lieberman, supported by a sell-out Euro-tour.

Her 17th album, Ready for the Storm, mixed by Bob Clearmountain (Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi), recorded in Los Angeles with a who’s who of the Netherland’s music scene, is out now.

You Can’t Stop the Rock ’n’ Roll of the Grand Poobah of Youngstown: James Gustafson

Uh, yeah. What? “What about Jim Gustafson?” you ask. As you know, this writer has his “issues” with our (well, my) deteriorated analogue world; however, once again, the Interet and its social media platforms (which I entered kicking and screaming: thank you, Mr. Pendragon, for the push) redeems itself through the platforms created by Jim Gustafson — who is still alive and well on Facebook and rocking in 2018 with Poobah.

Youngstown, Ohio’s Jim Gustafson started his professional career at 15 with the Daze End, which issued the first original song Jim wrote, the 45-rpm of “What Can I Do.” By 18, he formed Biggy Rat, which issued his second composition, “Look Inside Yourself.” Then it was Poobah in 1972, which issued their debut album, Let Me In, a limited release on Peppermint Records. Even with healthy sales and the support of progressive-rock FMs WPIC and WHOT, and well-received opening slots for Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, and a nascent Judas Priest, to name a few, Columbia Record passed on giving the album a national release. The eventual CD reissue of Let Me In was chosen by Rolling Stone in their “Top 10 Album of Year Reissue” and Goldmine magazine chose it as their “Reissue Pick of the Year.”

Next was the 1973 “Rock City b/w Bowleen” single. Three years later, Poobah released the advance single, “Through These Eyes b/w Watch Me,” for Poobah’s second album, 1976’s US Rock. Then, the third album, Steamroller appeared in 1979. Ten years passed; Poobah was back — with 1989’s Switched On, followed by 1998’s Wizard of Psych. And proving you can’t keep a good musician ignored by the major-labels or mainstream music press down, Jim was back with Furious Love (2003) and Underground (2006), No Control and Peace Farmers. His latest album, 2018’s Blue, is out and he’s on the road.

Jim’s love of comic books, which influenced the Robert Crumb-inspired album cover for Let Me In all those years ago, has come full circle: Jim is a “character,” with Poobah in tow, in the adventures of Ariane Eldar’s underground, graphic comic book series, Theatre of the Bloody Tongue, now out for purchase.

Oh, No. The Music Snob is Back . . .

And with that, with a brazen lack of brevity — let slip the keyboards of war! — it seems this writer has written himself into a corner. If you made it this far without surfing to the web’s next destination, this writer appreciates your indulgence — for you just “paid” me with your time. No monetary paycheck equals the fulfillment that bestows. (Ka-Ching!) Thank you.

Oh, when you get a chance, do log onto and surf You Tube; visit the music of Neil, Jim, Kyle, and Lori (and everyone else in this article; they’re all there on the ‘Tube, trust me) — and remember them. It’s the whole point of this writer’s — and his brothers from different mothers — mission quest: remember the forgotten musician.

Sound the horns, Malcolm (Mr. Paisley), from the tower of RPPFM 98.7 at Arthurs Seat on the Mornington, Peninsula! Raise ye swords, Michail, my brethren! Let us raise ye steins of ale, JD! With our keyboard steeds we shall ride into battle. There be music maidens to rescue and harmonious lands to protect.

“Arrrgh! “Crusader!”


R.D Francis is the writer of The Ghosts of Jim Morrison, the Phantom of Detroit, and the Fates of Rock ’n’ Roll and Tales from a Wizard: The Oral History of Walpurgis, You can learn more his book purchasing information by visiting the his Facebook Author’s Page.

Photo and Video Section

2018 Tour Photos courtesy of Jim Gustafson/Poobah
Neil Merryweather and Billy Joel jamming on Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”
Title cut from Kyle’s Times That Try a Man’s Soul
Lori Liberman with a 1975 live version of “Killing Me Softly”
Poobah’s debut album, Let Me In, courtesy of You Tube



R D Francis

Screenwriter, novelist, broadcaster, pull-quoted film critic, music historian and journalist. Visit at facebook.com/rdfranciswriter.