Filmmaker Eric Goldrich grew up hearing rumors that his dad once played in a rock band, so he and co-director Benjamin Friedberg decided to investigate the legend through this feature-length documentary. They reveal the flash-in-the-pan, Billboard Top 40 phenomena that was Gunhill Road, how the music industry thwarted the band’s aspirations, and then why some of the members (including Santa Barbara’s Glenn Leopold) decided to dust off their guitars and do it again.
Were you surprised to learn that your dad’s band was actually quite a big deal?
Extremely surprised, but only because I didn’t know about any of it until I was 24 years old! After hearing the music though, I objectively fell in love with Gunhill Road as a band. I’ve gotten into countless discussions with my co-director Ben and producing partners George and Ian about why they didn’t get bigger. But regardless of how “big” they did or didn’t get, the fact that they opened (and closed) for some of the most legendary acts of our time still blows my mind. As cool or as nerdy as my dad was growing up, his musical story certainly made him even cooler.
Why do you think he was so reluctant to talk about it?
I’ve thought a lot about this. Maybe too much. I even asked him this in an interview that didn’t make the final cut. His response was, “What was I going to tell you?” I personally believe, as unconscious as it may have been, that it was such a special time in his life that didn’t go the way he/the band wanted. It was a dream, or a mission, cut short. I don’t want to classify Gunhill Road’s journey as a failure, but they definitely didn’t get to where they had hoped. Even though we learn more from our failures than our successes, it doesn’t make it easier to talk about them. On the flip side, I think his experience in the arts has only fueled his unwavering support of my own pursuit in entertainment. And that is something I’ll never take for granted.
How much does your dad and his buddies play now?
Two of the three band members live in New York, and the third lives in California, so their “playing all the time” days are behind them. But when they do get together, it is quite magical to see 40 years of history, friendship, and music collide. However, my dad has always played piano in the house time and time again. Just fooling around. And he was a self-taught pianist which is no easy feat.
The film is a nice insight into The Bitter End. Does it still exist? Still breaking bands?
The Bitter End very much exists! Though it’s not really used the way it was in the ’60s through the ’90s. It’s a lot more open mics and small shows now. As far as I know, that is.
Do you think that the music industry is any more fair now than it was then?
I think the music industry today is way less fair than it was then. Music is essentially free to everyone these days. Especially for the older generation, it’s laughable and almost painful to see their music (essentially) for free on things like Spotify and YouTube. Having said that, the money in music is in live performances these days (mostly). So Gunhill Road, I say to you… we’re waiting!
The members seem to have moved on and had productive lives. How much do you think they regret not having “made it big”?
I don’t think any of them regret not having “made it big,” though I’m sure they wish they could have played music for a living the rest of their lives. But mostly, and I mean this truthfully, they are so happy with their lives now. But, if you asked them this question a few years after the band broke up in the ’70s, I’d think they’d be angry they didn’t make it bigger. I’m hoping that this Gunhill Road renaissance of sorts will rejuvenate the old fanbase and bring in a newer one. Their music, then and now, truly is gorgeous, easy listening, sweet music. It has been nothing short of special to be a part of the Gunhill Road story that is, strangely and miraculously enough, still being written 40 years later.