Tom "Zippy" ("Zip") Caplan - Lead Guitar, Arrangements, Special Effects
On August 18, 1946 lead guitarist Tom Caplan was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fascinated with all forms of entertainment through his early years, Tom began to listen to Top 40 radio station WDGY when he was 12 years old. The top disc jockey then, Dick Driscoll, was doing a Count Dracula routine on his show and Caplan, an avid horror fan was in awe by it. (This was just one of many influences which led to the version of The Mummy on the Distortions album).
By 1960 Tom was listening to the rock stations and buying 45rpm records when ever he could. Two major events happened that year that would change his life forever. The first came in the form of a Junior High School concert given by various students in the school auditorium. Two of his fellow classmates got up on stage and played acoustic guitars and sang Jan and Dean's Baby Talk. Caplan decided right then and there that this is what he wanted to do¤play music!
After getting his first guitar, a cheap acoustic, he took eight music lessons. That last session was all he could take. He quit, telling his parents he didn't want to learn how to play Ring Around the Rosie. It was at this time that the second turning point for Tom occurred. "The Ventures", Walk Don't Run was quickly climbing the charts and after hearing it for the first time, he immediately bought the record and picked out the lead by ear. Within a year, and a few "Ventures" albums later, he formed an instrumental group with friend and drummer Ron Butwin called "The Uniques". With second guitar player John Sklar, the trio began playing school dances using acoustic guitars miked through PA systems wherever they played.
It wasn't long before the group decided to add a horn player, bass guitarist and a new guitar player when Sklar quit to pursue other interests.
Tom bought his first electric guitar, a Fender Jazzmaster, his first amplifier, a Fender Bandmaster and "The Uniques" as a five piece group became part of the Minneapolis rock circuit during the early 60's playing a lot of Battle of the Bands shows with groups like "The Blackouts", "The Galaxies" and "Keith Zeller and The Starliners". The lead guitarist for Keith Zeller was none other than Bill Standlof (who went on to become the "Litters" original guitarist). Tom became good friends with him and another guitar player, Rick Youngberg from "The Deacons" (who later changed their name to "The Paisleys"). Since all three guitarists shared a fondness for "The Ventures", "The Beatles", and "The Rolling Stones", a good deal of guitar lick swapping went on between them and they learned a lot from each other in those early years. Another musician that Tom did a lot of jamming with was also a close personal friend, Bernie Bomberg. Bomberg played both piano and guitar and it was the collaboration between them that led to Caplan eventually using both The Mummy on Distortions for the "Litter" and The William Tell Overture for "Lightning". Bomberg does get his credit with Caplan on the original Distortions album and the K-Tel reissue. It was also during this period when Caplan got his first exposure to B.B. King and the Blues, thanks to his continuing friendship with John Sklar. Caplan wrote his first song, an instrumental titled Sandtrap and was hoping the group's manager, Clarence Hajney, could get them a recording contract. Hajney, who was also managing a female vocalist named Diane Emond, managed to get her a record deal and she had two national hits, I Wanna Be Your Lover (Not Your Friend) and The Beginning of the End, but things went sour when she moved to LA. and dumped him. He wasn't successful in securing a deal for "The Uniques" and by 1964 the group had disbanded. For a while Caplan and Butwin continued to play around the Twin Cities and Northern Minnesota with various sidemen calling themselves "The Continentals," but this proved to be short lived.
It was the same year "The Beatles" took the world by storm and Caplan and Butwin decided to take advantage of this new music. Joined by the late Rico Rosenbaum (who went on to bigger things in "The Underbeats", later turned "Gypsy") they wore wigs, Beatle boots, and English style clothes, called themselves "The Escapades" and played their first gig New Year's Eve 1964-65 at the St. Paul Auditorium as the opening act for Chuck Berry.
The dream lasted for a while as the Twin Cities audiences naturally assumed the group was from England. Caplan and Butwin kept the illusion alive for almost a year by making sure the band never mingled with the crowd, not only assuring them that no one would pull off the wigs, but keeping them elusive added to the mystique. It was this experience that gave Tom his first lesson in hype and marketing (used very effectively later in promoting "White Lightning"). When Rico left to join "The Underbeats" the ride was over. Not wishing to try and replace Rico, "The Escapades" ended.
Tom was approached by former "Gregory Dee and The Avantis" drummer Doug "Froggy" Nelson and was convinced to join the newly formed "Froggy and His Friends". Becoming a popular Minneapolis group in the mid-60's led to a recording session at Dove Studios (the same studio later used by "The Litter" to record Distortions).
Written by Caplan and bass player Charlie Lindley, What Have I Now, (later redone by "White Lightning") and Caplan's B-Side Carolyn S, the record was picked up by the Chicago Blues oriented label Chess Records. It was during this period in 1965-66 that Tom Caplan got the nickname "Zippy". Charlie Lindley, constantly irritated by Caplan's tardiness to the gigs, dubbed him "Zippy" sarcastically making reference to this over the microphone at each venue they played. After awhile the name stuck.
By this time "Zippy" had run into Larry Loofbourrow at Mr. Lucky's. He had come to see "Froggy and His Friends" play a few times and told "Zip" he was looking for a creative guitarist to write, arrange and record the guitar parts for his material. "Zippy" recorded five songs with Loofbourrow at the Kay-Bank studios on Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis playing lead and rhythm, then overdubbing the bass parts. It was the following year when "Zip" who had gone from "Froggy's" group to "The Accents" ran into Larry again at Mr. Lucky's. Now Loofbourrow wanted to take his project a step further by moving to L.A. He offered "Zip" a deal as his permanent guitarist should he secure a record contract. "Zip" accepted and along with Loofbourrow and his partner, Ted Dooley, made the move.
During his time in L.A. "Zip" continued to write the guitar parts and arrange Loofbourrow's material. While Larry was out trying to nail down a record contract, "Zippy" was on the Sunset Strip checking out the music scene. It was here that Caplan got his first exposure to Psychedelic music. Constantly in touch with friends back in Minneapolis, "Zip" kept hearing about a couple of groups that seemed to be right up to date with what was going on in California. As the deal with Loofbourrow seemed to be going in circles after nearly a year, Caplan left L.A. and moved back to Minneapolis. One of the groups he'd heard about was "The Litter". When "Zip" found out his old friend Bill Strandlof was the guitarist, he made it a point to see the group immediately. The year was 1967 and the place was The Prom Center in St. Paul, Mn.
Since "Zippy" also knew Jim Kane from his previous years playing the Minneapolis circuit, it was only natural for them to talk about the music business. "Zip" continued to keep in touch with Jim Kane and caught "The Litter" at a few more venues. When Kane mentioned that he was expecting Strandlof to quit he also asked Caplan if he was interested in joining the band. Kane also wanted "Zip" to accompany him to a Battle of the Bands "The Litter" was playing in Rochester, Mn. The objective was for "Zippy' to familiarize himself with the group's stage show and repertoire.
By the end of the show in Rochester, whatever had been bothering Strandlof had come to a head and "Zip" learned from Kane, as the group exited the stage, that Bill had "lost it up there and quit - giving his notice on the spot".
Action Woman, Legal Matter and Soul Searchin were already in the can with Strandlof's lead parts so "Zip" went into Dove Recording Studios and finished up the Distortions album playing the lead on the remaining tracks and introducing the group to his rendition of The Mummy. It was decided to end side one by using The Mummy as a tag after Substitute.
By mid 1968 the second annual Connie Awards were given out and "Zippy" won that year for best lead guitarist. "Zip" had also met and become friends with Woody Woodrich and by that summer they had quite a few jam sessions under their belts. After $100 Fine was recorded and the group had played many concerts all over the U.S. and Canada, "Zip" and other "Litter" members went into recording sessions with Larry Loofbourrow (he wrote Morning Sun and Confessions for the $100 Fine album).
It was August 18, 1968 when the group went into The Electric Theatre in Chicago to film their scenes for the movie Medium Cool; this also became Caplan's last appearance with The Litter.
After giving his notice, Caplan and Woodrich drove back to Minneapolis and White Lightning was born. In an effort to kick-off the new band as big as possible, Warren Kendrick was approached by "Zip" and asked if he could come up with a song the group could record and have ready for sale in time for it's debut at "New City Opera House" (formerly Mr. Lucky's). The song Kendrick gave them was Of Paupers and Poets but it needed a lot of work since Kendrick had originally written it for a Pop-Bubble Gum style band. Immediately going into long rehearsals the song was reworked into the heavier style of the group and the B-Side William was fine tuned and completed.
Kendrick took the 45rpm to KDWB and after the program manager excitingly mistook the band for "Cream", he agreed to play it. The single made it to #5 on the local charts in January of 1969. The record's success, the promotion of "Zip's" name (being from "The Litter") and the introduction to audiences of The William Tell Overture all helped push the "White Lightning" name into the regional spotlight.
Soon after Atco picked up the single, the group went into Kendrick's studio and recorded another half dozen or more originals. This was followed by more sessions at Sound 80 Studios (these song are available for the first time on the CD White Lightning Strikes Twice).
Eventually Pat Rains took over as the group's manager and the new 5 piece "Lightning" cut a record deal with Pickwick International. Shortly after the release of the "Lightning" album, Pat promoted a huge outdoor concert with "Illinois Speed Press", "Sly and the Family Stone" among others, Johnny Winter and of course "Lightning". It was after this show that "Zip" met and became friends with Johnny. Over the next few years "Zip" and Johnny Winter would come to be very close (Caplan even playing a benefit in Long Beach, CA as Johnny's bass player). They still keep in touch to this day.
"Zip" remembers best one of his last concerts with "Lightning". The group opened for "Grand Funk Railroad" in Des Moines, IA New Year's Eve 1970-71. It was a great experience for everyone as the show was jammed with over 12,000 people.
Eventually many differences, mostly musical, broke the group up and Rains, Stanhope and Caplan decided to move to L.A. Hoping to replace Woody, Ronn and Bernie with California musicians and secure a new record contract, Mick and "Zip" began to do studio work on the side. Meanwhile Pat Rains became interested in Al Jarreau (who he managed until recently) and his ties with "Lightning" began to dissolve. "Zip" and Mick recorded some tracks with Barnaby Records' Sherman Hayes and they can be heard on his album Catman.
"Zip" was then approached to join an ensemble group headed by an artist named D. J. Rogers. Bringing friends Scott Sansby on drums and bassist Donny Larson (Gypsy) with him to backup D. J.'s Donny Hathaway style of music was a good learning experience. D. J. was a talented singer, songwriter and keyboardist who's style of Funk and R&B gave "Zip" a background in a type of music he'd never played before. Doing promotion concerts for Shelter Records around the L.A. area and some recording sessions for D. J.'s album "Zip" can be heard on the Shelter Records single Listen to the Message and It's All Over. Despite D.J.'s tremendous talents the project failed, mostly due to Shelters withdrawal of funds to the group; leaving everyone pretty broke.
Disappointed and having some lean times in L.A. led Caplan back to Minneapolis. With an idea he got in L.A. and a request from former "Lightning" members, he opened the Musician's Referral Service while doing a "Lightning" reunion stint on the side.
By the late 70's both the Referral Service and the "Lightning" gigs had run their course. Only briefly in 1975 when the original 5 piece group went into the studio and recorded The William Tell Overture (also including horn players Rick O'Dell and Gus Gustafson and keyboardist Jerry McGee) did "Zip" believe the group had another shot. It is interesting here to note that the engineer for that session was David Rivkin (later known as Prince's engineer David Z.).
Caplan shopped William Tell to Los Angeles record labels but they weren't buying. Disco was big at that time and all the record execs wanted it redone with a Disco beat. It was after this that Caplan took an absence from the music business.
For a brief time in the late 70's and early 80's "Zippy" played in clubs with groups "CCLC" with Mick Stanhope, "Dancer" with Mick and bassist Donny Larson, and finally "Daily Planet" with friend and drummer Phil Berdahl ("The Stillroven"). During the eighties Caplan sold auto parts and owned a couple of Video Rental stores among other things.
Out of the business for years "Zip" was reunited with both "Litter" and "Lightning" members in the 90's for the "Litter" reunion concerts and the recording of the new "Litter" album Re-Emerge which he co-produced with Joey Molland ("Badfinger") and James Walsh (Gypsy). Caplan also took the live "Litter" concert tapes into the studio and co-produced the album The Litter - Live at Mirage 1990 with Paul Stark (Twin Tone Records and "Replacements" guru).
Currently he and his wife Ann live in Minneapolis. Tom "Zippy" Caplan is currently sponsoring this web site, in addition to brokering collectibles and is also playing in the "The Litter" and He recently released his first solo CD Zip Caplan and cast of Thousands"Monsters and Heroes" . For more info on this check out www.zipcaplan.com