In 1968, a fledgling band called Iron Butterfly released an album featuring a decidedly unorthodox acid-rock song that rambled on for 17 minutes and included a 2 1/2-minute drum solo.
Executives at the band’s label, Atlantic Records, cringed at the prospect of marketing an album whose title track took up the entire side of a vinyl LP and came with the tongue-twisting title “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Efforts to persuade the San Diego-based group to edit its opus proved futile.
Incredibly, the album went on to become a massive hit. It spent 81 weeks in the U.S. Top 10 and for a time was the biggest-selling album in Atlantic Records’ history. By 1970, the band’s leader, singer and principal songwriter, Doug Ingle, was a multimillionaire at the tender age of 24.
“It all came so fast and easy,” Ingle said this week by phone from his home in San Diego. The group has reunited and will play tonight at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.
Yet Ingle’s memories of Iron Butterfly’s brief stay atop the rock ‘n’ roll mountain are heavy with regret.
While the group was feverishly touring during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, its finances were anything but secure. By 1974, three year’s after the band’s breakup, the creative force behind the group was in serious debt.
“I was a child among men,” Ingle, 48, recalled wistfully. “I was dealing with people who were competent but not necessarily (working) in my interest. I took the luxury of playing ostrich. I didn’t involve myself at the business level at all. I just went out and performed. It was, ‘Isn’t life great?’ Then everything crashed down. I still maintain life is great, but now I base it on something (real) rather than wishful thinking.”
Largely because of an unpaid-tax debt, Ingle lost most of his property, including a 600-acre ranch and an apartment building in Woodland Hills. He was even forced to sell his grand piano. It took him until 1986 to get clear with the IRS.
Between 1974 and ’78, Ingle managed a recreational vehicle park in the Los Angeles National Forest. He spent time painting houses in Oregon, Washington and California.
Married for the third time, Ingle has six children and three stepchildren. Several weeks ago he became a grandfather when his oldest son fathered twins, one named Doug Ingle III.
Original bassist Lee Dorman and drummer Ron Bushy revived Iron Butterfly in 1991. But it wasn’t until last year that Ingle agreed to rejoin.
“We had been in touch with Doug periodically,” said Dorman, a Dana Point resident, in a separate phone interview. “He had been thinking about possibly coming back.
“In the interim, Ron and I got management to see if they could help us get to the next level,” Dorman said. “Once that happened Doug felt it wasn’t just playing for the sake of playing. It was an opportunity to express himself again. There was also an opportunity to do an album. We had lined up a studio, which was willing to go along with the project. So finally he said, ‘This is the time. Let’s do it.’ ”
Ingle speaks candidly about the unhappiness he sometimes felt during Iron Butterfly’s peak years. The nonstop touring and pressures of stardom seemed overwhelming. There was no room for a personal life. “Everything was the big show. I wanted to slow down,” Ingle said.
Today, with his personal life in order, Ingle sounds rejuvenated. When he talks about the new Iron Butterfly, which includes first-time members Derek Hilland (keyboards) and Doug Bossi (guitar), words such as fun , love , appreciation and enthusiasm tend to crop up.
Ingle and Dorman seem particularly excited about the creative energy in this band. The Butterfly’s current live set includes several new numbers. The quintet plans to begin a summer tour in June and hopes to record an album after that.
The band is also going to be part of a soon-to-be-released CD-ROM retrospective called “Rock Expedition ‘60s.” In September, Rhino Records will release a re-mastered version of the “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” album with new liner notes.
So how does this incarnation of Iron Butterfly compare with the original model?
“That was an entire different era,” Dorman said. “Everybody has progressed so much since then. Plus, with the new band members things are moving faster because of the talent and quality of the musicians. It’s such an early stage, but it all feels real good so far.”
“It’s getting more and more fun each time we perform,” added Ingle, who also is working on a solo album. “I’m not saying it’s not without its challenges. We’ve had equipment difficulties. But so what? Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”
* Iron Butterfly, Talon and Blood Red Roses play tonight at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $15. (714) 496-8930.