Ken Whitaker is Stanley Whitaker’s older brother and was the singer in one of Stan’s early bands. It was Ken who gave Happy The Man its name. Today Ken is a respected software engineer, an author of several books.
ATI: Do you have any recollections about Stan from early years, when he was a kid?
KW: Yeah. He was a pain in the ass. We were the only brothers, and actually we got along great. From a very early age, he got into music, probably much more than I did. He was a good kid. No real problems. I would say that growing up in a military household could be straining, especially because we moved like every two years. It was very difficult to establish long-term friendships. Very difficult. Stan managed to keep those relationships a lot more than I did, and it was more important to Stan.
ATI: Did you and Stan play [music] together?
KW: Before we moved to Germany, we lived in Newport News, Virginia, which is outside of Williamsburg, and there we were part of a band called The Imposters. It was one of those high school garage bands. One of those silly things, but we sure enjoyed it. That was the time when you would basically practice in someone’s house and the parents and the neighbors hated you.
ATI: Were you singing at the time with The Imposters, or was Stanley singing or was it just instrumental?
KW: Another guy was the singer. It was the time of The Monkees and all that other crap. We had a drummer that was very, very cute, and all the girls liked him. The singer was a Puerto Rican-American. He was a very good singer. There were hopeful opportunities to compete, so we got involved with a number of battles of the bands around the Newport News area. There was even a rumor that there was a Bob Hope talent show coming to Hampton Roads, which is part of that area, and it was a big deal. We went out and bought band-like uniforms. In those days, everybody wore similar outfits, like Herman’s Hermits and all those others, and we did the same thing. Everybody bought the same blue ponderosa shirt, it was called, and black pants, and we were going to make the big time. Of course, nothing happened.
At the time, we didn’t write any of our own music. We just played the standard things like “Louie Louie” and all the stuff that all the bands played, but we thought we were better than all the others. Of course, I don’t think we were, but we thought we were.
ATI: Let’s fast-forward to Germany. I understand that you graduated a couple years before Stan did, right?
KW: Yes, two years.
ATI: In the summer when Stanley graduated, his group Shady Grove was signed for a three-month tour of 48 army bases. You were probably in college by then. Did you tour with them over summer vacation?
KW: Sort of. I was in college in Germany. During that time, my parents came back to the United States. I would say that it wasn’t the best parent/child relationship during that time. I was more than happy to stay overseas. We were contracted by an American travel agency in Frankfurt called the Davis Travel Agency. And somehow they assigned a manager to schedule the events at military bases, and to make sure we could get into hotels. Our expenses were paid. We spent all summer traveling around. At the time, there was no singer. I can’t remember why, but I became the singer. There was already a bass player. I also became the manager of the group, because no one else was very responsible, in my opinion. So we toured all over. Sometimes good, sometimes not. We wrote some of our own music, and we got into progressive music. The tour was tied with something called the USO [United Service Organization], and it’s the entertainment part of the army. We would show up at outdoor festivals or picnics or soldiers’ clubs. Sometimes we were kicked out, because the commanding officer heard our music, and if it wasn’t country music or something, he would basically close us down. We had some good times and some awkward times, but it was all great.
ATI: Tell me about your easel and painting onstage.
KW: I was majoring in mathematics and in fine arts at the time. To relax, I decided to bring canvasses to paint on stage. I don’t know what made me do it. We saw a musician here in Seattle called Joseph Arthur. Have you heard of him? He had quite a talent. He was discovered by Peter Gabriel and Real World Records quite a while ago, and I think Peter Gabriel produced him. Anyway, my wife and I went to see Joseph Arthur, because he’s really quite interesting, and all of a sudden he pulls out a canvass, and he starts spray painting and painting on it. I thought, “Oh man. That’s pretty wicked. That brings back memories.” After that point, even later on when Stan formed Happy The Man, I was still painting. They actually wrote some music after I released one of these paintings called “Gretchen’s Garden.” I left them the paintings, I have no clue whatever happened to them. They probably weren’t very good anyway.
ATI: Stanley says you’re the one who suggested the name Happy The Man, influenced by both the Bible and Goethe’s Faust. How did that evolve?
KW: At the time, we had moved back to the mountains in Virginia to go to college at James Madison University. Stan was interested in forming a band there, and he met his friend Frank. One of my acquaintances in one of my classes had his own band, and it just so happened the keyboard player was Kit Watkins. When Kit and I met, I took an immediate liking to him and introduced him to Stan. Stan and Frank wanted to form a band, and they weren’t sure what to name it. I was going to quite a lot of churches during those days, and I had heard the phrase “Happy be the man,” and I thought, “You know, that is really catchy. Instead of a metal, dark type of name, why not Happy The Man?” I told Stan, Stan and Frank discussed it, and it went on from there. Later I found out there was a little-known Genesis song called, “Happy The Man,” and I thought, “Wow. That’s really odd,” because I didn’t know about that.
ATI: You said you introduced Kit to Stanley.
KW: That’s right. Kit didn’t like the band he was with. He listened to Stan play once, and he immediately knew that he wanted to be tied in with Stan and Frank. One thing led to another, and Kit joined Stan.
ATI: What do you remember of the Peter Gabriel incident?
KW: Stan gave me a call once Peter Gabriel approached them, and when Peter Gabriel really only wanted Stan, Stan gave me a call and said, “We’re gonna make it really big. We have Clive Davis very much interested in Happy The Man. We have just done an interview with Peter Gabriel, and now Peter Gabriel wants me to join.” So he was really confused and concerned what to do. I told him, “Hey. Get rid of your friends. Go to England. What’s wrong with you? Are you even thinking? Get on a plane. Go to England!”
Obviously, he didn’t listen to me. He did that twice! I didn’t realize there was a second time that Peter Gabriel came back to him. That’s life, I guess.
ATI: Did you listen to his albums?
KW: Of course. When Happy The Man played in Harrisonburg, in the mountains of Virginia, they were big. James Madison was a liberal arts school, and it had a huge music department. When Happy The Man played, the auditorium was jammed. There were times when they used midgets to throw around balloons and stuff. They always did some theatrics. It was fun watching those guys play. They didn’t have any money, so they were very inventive. Stan, as you know, is very talented.
ATI: Yes, we know! Thanks, Ken!