Alex was raised in Mill Valley, California, where his earliest and best childhood friend was Mitch Howie. Alex and Mitch first started playing music in the first years of high school, fired up by the British bands of the 60’s, Rock and Roll and R&B music on the radio, and also the live band music they heard at local dances. One of their first gigs was playing at big college frat party where Mitch played just a snare drum and Alex played a cheapo pawn shop guitar and sang through a microphone hooked up to tiny amp; they rocked it out for hours.
When Alex and Mitch met John McFee in 1967, they formed the Tiny Hearing Aid Company, with banjo player Bruce Campbell and a series of bass players. Upon meeting bassist Johnny Ciambotti, Clover was formed. Together they delved into all the musical styles that turned them on, from vintage country to funk, from rock and R&B to bluegrass. The synthesis is what comes to light on the new album.
“I have wanted to see this Clover record come out for years now and can’t wait to get out and play for our old fans and I hope a host of new ones. Playing music is my life. I hope everyone likes this record and gets to see the Clover that never quite got a chance in the old days.”
Mitch Howie grew up exploring the creeks and hills of Mill Valley and Muir Beach with his childhood best friend, Alex Call. Mitch's mom, Betty, was a Union Musician who played with many orchestras and bands and taught many students. His brother Chris is a fine player of banjo, guitar, and pedal steel. It was only natural that when rock music came along, Alex and Mitch would play together. Early influences include The Beau Brummels, The Zombies, Them, The Kinks, The Stones, and The Beatles, but also Ray Charles, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bobby Blue Bland, and James Brown! Mitch cut his funky teeth early.
One of Mitch’s earliest gigs was playing a frat house party with Alex near SF State around Christmas 1965. Mitch played a snare drum, using a magazine rack as a cymbal! They played What I Say, Satisfaction, and Louie Louie for about four hours without stopping. The crowd danced all night. In 1966 he met John McFee and together with Alex, they started The Tiny Hearing Aid Company, which morphed into Clover a year later with the addition of Johnny Ciambotti.
Clover made its first album at Fantasy Records' old warehouse in West Berkeley near the Oakland train line, having to stop whenever the trains rumbled past. This is where Mitch started putting his drums down on tape. “Love is Gone” prominently features Mitch on what Alex calls “lead drums” – which caught the attention of The Brinsley Schwartz Band in England, with Nick Lowe and Ian Gomm, and which led to Clover going to the UK in the mid 70's.
John McFee, a native Californian, was born in Santa Cruz, a coastal town north of Monterey and south of San Francisco. He was raised in the California oil field culture, his father being a “roughneck” on the oil rigs. His father also played music, and as the instruments were “around the house” as John was growing up, he began playing music - starting with ukulele and moving on to guitar, banjo, and other string instruments - from a very early age.
California at that time was something of a hotbed of country music, and this is the style that John grew up hearing and playing. Then came the Beatles - everybody wanted to have a band, and since John already knew how to play, suddenly he was being asked to be part of the “rock and roll” scene that the British invasion created. After playing in various bands around the Orange County area south of Los Angeles, John’s older brother Bob recommended that John check out the musical scene in the Bay area, particularly in Marin County across the Golden Gate north of San Francisco. Bob introduced John to Homestead Valley natives Mitch Howie and Alex Call, and it seemed to John like a great natural chemistry from the first time they played music together.
This was the beginning of what was to become Clover, which really took shape when John Ciambotti began playing bass with them full time. Clover’s music was primarily original material written from within the band from the very beginning, and eventually they came to the attention of Fantasy Records. Fantasy had traditionally been mostly a jazz label, but began having some breakout “rock” success with Creedence Clearwater Revival. Based at least partly on the recommendation of Creedence members, Fantasy signed Clover to its first recording contract (young John, still a minor, had to have his mother sign the contract for him!).