The Graveyard Five

Deriving their name with the assistance of a Ouija board, The Graveyard Five often times played on stage propped next to a coffin. On a dark and stormy night in 1968 in Northern California, the band parked within a cemetery and penned their classic garage rock opus Marble Orchard, thereby creating a unique song that bassist Steve Kuppinger believes represents the group's self-professed "graveyard sound".

Steve Kuppinger Recalls The Graveyard Five

It seems to me that we got together in 1967 and were still together late in '69. There were four of us in the band. The fifth member was the coffin. Louis Shriner, lead guitar and Dave Tempelton, drums, lived in Kelseyville. Dennis Roller, the rhythm player and I, Steve Kuppinger, bassist, lived in Lakeport. Our first rhythm player was Gary Prather, but he didn't last very long. He lived on Cobb Mountain, outside of Kelseyville. We went through rhythm players like bubble gum until we found Dennis; he stayed until the bitter end.

It all started when I went to Winters, California to pack apricots. I met Louis there. He was sleeping in the trunk of his brother's car. I ran into him in the rest room one day. He was trying to comb his hair and used almost a whole can of hair spray. We started talking and one thing led to another. We both played six-string so we made a deal to get together when we got back to Lake County. The band started that night at my house. He came over and we played Beatles and Ventures songs and a lot of oldies. That is how it all started.

I guess we weren't a true garage because we never played in a garage. Our first pratice was in the bedroom in back of my house, and that is where we jelled into a band. Later the school's let us use the gyms, and our first gig was at a minature golf course. We practiced our heads off, but as we went the gigs became our practice.

Our first gig was at a golf course just down the street from my house. There was a place called the Monkey Cage that featured live music and was taking a lot of business away from the golf course. The night we played his business tripled so we played there for a little while.

In the early part of the band we made our own light show. We took a tire rim, and welded a leg on an electric motor. We then welded it three feet out from the motor to hold three colored lights. We cut out a round piece of plywood with an arching slot in it. As the plywood spun it was like a three colored strobe; the faster it went the better it looked.

I like to think that the name of the group had a lot to do with me. The night we got the name we were fooling around with a Ouija board. Louis and I sat down and we asked the board to prove itself. We turned off all the lights. Our hands got icy cold and we heard someone walking outside the window in the gravel. There was no one there. It was after that The Graveyard Five came to life.

One stormy night we were playing a high school somewhere in the middle of California. We always played the first song then we would introduce the band. We finished the song and before we could say anything the coffin lid popped open. There was this coffin right in front of us and to this day we do not know how it did that. We went on playing but backed away from it just a little. The coffin was always carried in by four guys and set in front of us. That night the lid stayed open until we had all the equipment loaded then all of us went back in and carried it out.

We played around before we cut our 45 - mostly in bars and so on. Those were what I can the bad days; we played a lot of red neck bars where they just were not ready for us. We had fights on the stage and had beer bottles thrown at us while we played. It was some really hard work for very little pay.

At the start of the band we played everything from Wipe Out to Surfer Joe and Sleep Walk and we did a lot of the old stuff. As we start writing our own stuff, we stopped playing other people's stuff. I listened to Cream; I loved Ginger Baker's beat, and I use to sing Sunshine Of Your Love as the last song in some of the earlier shows. If you didn't play your own stuff the Avalon Ballroom wouldn't even look at you - much less the Filmore, East and West.

I loved every one of our concerts, but there was one in Redding California that was so great. There must have been a thousand or more people there and everyone was in the groove from the first song to the last. It was just a loud roar. We came back on six times and played three new songs for them. That was a great crowd; I will never forget them. Radio stations plugged our song for almost three weeks before the concert. They had a home town band open for us but it was all our concert.

We wrote Marble Orchard in Heartly Cemetery. It was a very stormy night. Lightning. Thunder. We sat in an old studebacker stationwagon, and wrote that song as it happened. The heartbeat in the beginning is me thumping my bass strings. I put a lot of reverb and echo on it and it came out better then the stock heartbeat they had recorded to use. I seem to remember that when Louis asked for the cigerette I handed him a Lucky Strike non-filter, so if you can picture it then that is about what it looked like that night in the cemetery. That was one bad storm; it was very creepy. We started out calling the flip Buried Deep but changed it in the studio to Graveyard Theme. Gary is on the record, but that is as far as he went. He quit right after that.

There wasn't a large amount (of 45s pressed). I seem to remember two or three boxes but (they were) very small boxes. We were going to have more pressed but (never did). One box was given to deejays to put on jukeboxes, and others were given to friends and people we thought could help us. And of course Louis skipped a lot of them - like skipping rocks on a lake. I wasn't there when it happened but my sister was married to him at the time and she said he went wacko and threw the master tape (into a canal). He then threw his big extension speaker in, got on top of it and paddled around with his guitar. I believe (an alligator) ate his stuff and he threw a lot of the records into the canal at that time as well. I wouldn't say that Louis was into drugs more then the rest of us, but I would say is that he was more reckless. Once in Oregon he took 13 hits of acid. He was never the same after that. One thing was that no matter what we drank or took we never missed a show and we never messed up a song. It seemed like everyone back then was trying some kind of drug; it was just the thing to do. And all this stuff about it making you play better music - that is complete bull cookies. Some of it let us think deeper for lyrics, but it never made our music sound better that what was up to us...

We mostly played on our own, but we sort of did passing in the night type things where one band would be breaking down to leave and we would be setting up to play later that night. Some of the bands were: The Loading Zone, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Buddy Miles Express, Jefferson Airplane (before they went big - that was out on Cobb Mountain, and light fingered Louie made off with one of their fuzz tones), Sons Of Champlin, The March Hare (who we fought all the time with. We beat them at a battle of the bands and the feud was on), The Raising Young, an Indian band from Lakeport - The Nuerotic Pineapple, and Big Brother and The Holding Company, before Janis joined I think. There was also The Dream Merchants from Fort Bragg.

There was a band named The Fatigues. I think they did a song called Rooftops. Stan use to sing with them, and Stan could not sing. One of the guys that played in The Fatigues looked like he might have been an organ grinder with a monkey and he just fired the monkey when he get into The Fatigues. Not to be mean, but that is what the guy looked like. There was no love lost between us and The Fatigues. They knew that as soon as we signed the contract with Stan that their days were numbered.

(I think we recorded in) Concord, Berkey or Oakland. The 45s were given out all over San Francisco as well as Lake County. We used to (pass) them out to every place we went in that had a jukebox. After we cut the 45 and got Stan as an agent things started to look up - but we were on the road all the time. We would tear down and have to be at the next gig the next night; it didn't give us a lot of time for anything but playing and getting up to go on the road to the next gig. We did a lot of that. We were trying to get our name out any way we could. It was very hard at times.

We didn't go into the studio (again) until maybe seven or eight months after we cut the first 45. We worked on Stay By My Grave for maybe two or three weeks. It was finished; the final mix was done but it just never got cut. I think it is some of the best stuff we ever did; that song still haunts me. The bass part came in one practice. Louis was playing a riff and I just started playing the part; that is the way it came out - think of lightning sizzling through the air with a coat of thunder. It sounds like thunder, but very different. It is so very hard to describe it. The lead part breaks over the singing. Every time I heard it, it would send chills down my spine. I've never heard anything like it. It took a few weeks working to get that affect, but it was well worth the work.

Near the end of the band I think we had enough songs to do an album or two, but we just never got the chance. Stay By My Grave was one everyone really liked and another was Out Of The Dark. We did have a lot of song that we wrote ourselves. Rain was a good song. There was a song I wrote called Pain; that one really rocked their socks off. We had a little diddy called A to E. I wrote another song called Barbara. It was a slow song that had beautiful chords. We redid a few songs, too. Everything we played by someone else we made our own so it was always different. 16 Tons was a big one and sometimes I would sing Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream to end the night. I would sing the last part of the song from inside the coffin. The audience really liked that.

Oh boy...there was a lot of girls. I mean...for that time...the graveyard thing was new and I think a lot of them wanted to see just who we were - if we were vampires or weird or what - but I can tell you there were a lot of girls. Wow! There was a lot of girls, and I loved all of them in my heart. That is one thing that I really miss...

We were definitely not psychedelic. We were the outsiders. We considered ourselves as walking a new land in music and were told by bigger record labels that we were was ahead of our time; that they did not know where to put our music. We liked to listen to all the other bands but we were on a road of our own. We called our sound the "graveyard sound." Of course I guess we really didn't know what that sound was until we stumbled on it. Everything we got I rewired to make it sound different or to make more then one sound. We fried a lot of guitars and blew a lot of amps on the road to that sound. There were many nights on stage where our hair was standing up from shocks...

I remember every time the band went into the recording studio the engineer use to curse us because he couldn't get the place warm. He told us once that 30 minutes before we came in the place was nice and warm, but the minute we got there and set up the temperature went down. I remember being able to see my breath while I was singing back up. Then there was that grawl on Marble Orchard. I think that whatever it was must have followed us when we left the cemetery, and I think it stayed with us everywhere we went. It seemed that no matter where we were it was always cold; all the girls that went with us wore coats all the time. There was something very strange that followed that band, and I think took its toll on Louis. I think it has hit all of us: Dave is in prison and, hell, Louis might even be dead by now. The last time I talked to him he was very bad off. And I haven't gotten away clean. Thirty years ago Reflex Sympothtic Dystrophy hit me, and the doctors have been trying to control the pain every sense. There is no cure. The only one I do not know about is Dennis Roller, but he did get burned very bad - on both arms, his chest and his back. Almost all of his little finger was burned off. So I think all of us has been hit by whatever it was that followed us around. Sometimes when it is really late and stormy I can still feel it, almost like it is waitng out in the dark for me to start another band...

It was a long hard road but we were sure we were on our way, so we just put our heads down and put it in first gear and hit the gas. When we cut the 45 we were all thinking, "Wow. This is it. All we need now is the right people to push it and everyone is going to know The Graveyard Five." But if you had asked me back then I have to admit this would be the last thing that would have come into my head. At the same time it brings back that very good feeling of knowing that someone listened to our work and liked it. That is all I ever really wanted. The fame and money would have been great, but when it comes down to it, right here is the reason we wrote and played our music. At least for me, it is one very good feeling...

THE MARBLE ORCHARD (Kuppinger - Shriner)
Some people go to graveyards
Some people go to die
Some people go to gaveyards
Hippies go to get high
Graveyards are no relaxation
They're death no hallucination
We were out there last night
Just a-lookin' at the sights
Well you know I got this feeling
That something ain't right
Well the rain was pouring down
Like dead men walk the ground
Well the sky was really eerie
There's something on the prowl...


We were out in the graveyard
for more than an hour
Then we heard dreadful footsteps
From behind our car
There was lightning in the sky
Someone's going to die!
So I said to Steve
Man, hand me a cigarette
And he said back to me -
Look behind the dark tree
Well I rolled my window down
And looked at the shadow
Well, that was enough for anybody-
anybody to see...


NOTE: Steve's recollections were compiled with the help of a great number of '60's garage bands collectors and experts from the Forums. Special thanks to Mike Markeseich for providing the lyrics to Marble Orchard.

"Copyrighted and originally printed on by Mike Dugo".
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